In an effort to vaccinate those who didn’t make it to traditional mass vaccination sites, Klusaritz and other colleagues at Penn Medicine used city data to identify neighborhoods with low vaccination and set up clinics there. . They worked closely with school principals, churches and mosques, local businesses and business partners like Philadelphia sports teams to gain the trust of communities.
“We describe May to the end of October  like the marathon, not the sprint, ”said Klusaritz,“ where we’ve had an ongoing presence in those communities where we’ve administered vaccines. But what we’ve also done is just provide a lot of education and awareness, allowing people to ask questions, to address their concerns. “
New challenges ahead
With vaccines now approved for ages 5 and up, Penn Medicine has refocused its efforts on immunizing children, including school-based clinics in underserved areas. To date, the healthcare system has hosted clinics at 21 different schools in Philadelphia, including one that has administered around 800 injections.
“And it was really, really moving, very moving to see 5, 6 and 7 year olds struggling with their own need to have a photo that a few months ago was not on the radar,” said Wender. . “And we were able to immunize virtually everyone who came in, including some kids who were really nervous and scared about it.”
Parents who had hesitated to get vaccinated earlier in the pandemic were hesitant to vaccinate their children, Klusaritz said. Beginning in the summer of 2021, when children 12 and older were eligible for a vaccine, Penn Medicine began hosting a series of virtual town halls and invited doctors to explain the science of the vaccine and provide a open forum for questions.
Additionally, Klusaritz said, Penn Medicine has trained and worked with vaccine ambassadors, trusted people from the communities they serve. This special workforce discusses the effectiveness of the vaccine with local residents in libraries, retail stores, recreation centers and schoolyards. Although not all parents decide to vaccinate their children after a conversation, Klusaritz and his team have noticed positive results.
“What changed when the 5 to 11 year olds connected was that we saw that the families who had made a decision [to get] their vaccinated child [decided] it was the right time for the whole family to get the vaccine, ”Klusaritz said. “So this availability of the vaccine for the youngest people really created this energy around the vaccination of family units. “
Yet great challenges lie ahead, said Wender and Klusaritz. The local clinic model expands the volunteer workforce and requires having many clinics in any given week.
“Achieving fairness is being as available as possible,” said Wender. For example, “we have to be in school during the school day, in the middle of the week. So that puts a huge test on our ability to attract volunteers. “
Now, with different vaccines and boosters, as well as a variety of eligible groups coming to clinics, there are significant safety concerns, Wender said. At the start of vaccine deployment, only two types of mRNA vaccines were available. That has changed dramatically, and now health systems are tasked with creating a system of safety checks to ensure they are matching the right vaccine with the right patient.
“We have parents, we have teachers, we are vaccinating people who are getting their first dose,” Wender said. “We vaccinate people who get their second dose and we vaccinate people who get boosters. This has therefore been a very significant challenge for the logistics and security of the clinic, which is changing quite rapidly. “
Klusaritz said Penn Medicine’s healthcare system predicted that not everything would go smoothly.
“We knew when entering into this file, the context in which we were deploying a new vaccine, the climate of the country, we knew that there would be hesitations and concerns, and we were not going to convince everyone”, a declared Klusaritz. . “And so we wanted to take the approach of being present in the neighborhoods consistently over time, so that when people were ready to say yes, we would be there and they could choose the vaccine.”