AUSTIN (KXAN) — Travis County commissioners are redoubling their efforts to get more people vaccinated as the COVID-19 Delta variant spreads locally.
This week, they directed staff to identify 10 churches in hard-hit areas to set up vaccine clinics on Sundays.
Dr. Nancy Guillet, a clinical instructor at the University of Texas at Austin, welcomes the news. Her team has been partnering with churches and other community groups for months now.
“‘Okay, the church has said yes to this clinic, people, these nurses to come and give us the vaccine,’ so that’s one more layer of trust,” Guillet explained.
She said they’ve seen hundreds of people come in for their shots through churches.
That includes Emma Lopez at the Austin First Spanish Seventh-Day Adventist Church on Wednesday.
“I was afraid, because I heard other people saying that they got side effects or symptoms like breathing problems,” she said.
But a few family members got successfully vaccinated, and then her church started offering them.
“She said she feels safe, because here at the church they provide for many of her needs like spiritual needs and some other things, so this is a safe place for her,” Dr. Guillet translated.
Her group’s mobile clinics are through Vaccine Administration Mobile Operations (VAMOS) and “Vaccinate, No Waste” (VaxNow).
They’ve been targeting areas that need it most; Wednesday’s church, for example, sits in 78753. According to state data, only 34.71% of neighbors there have gotten their shots.
The University of Texas’ COVID-19 modeling consortium also highlighted the zip code as one of the hardest-hit by COVID-19 infections.
“Every time I see one vial of the vaccine empty, I think about five to six people’s lives. It gives me chills,” Guillet said.
Although there’s still a ways to go to bring the vaccination rate up, she said sometimes providers have to do their best to educate and be patient.
“We are thinking that just because we put a sign people will come. But you have to really have the other things that come with it,” she said. “Continue working. Even if it’s not this week, next week — I’ve seen it, they come.”
Lopez said she will feel secure after her second dose and will now try to convince her 13-year-old and her dad, a recovered COVID-19 patient, to make their trip to church.
Austin Public Health launched a similar pilot program back in March to focus on hard-hit Hispanic and Black communities.
They teamed up with the Austin Black Physicians Association (ABPA) to hold clinics at east Austin churches.
ABPA told KXAN it held four clinics during their partnership. More than 600 Moderna doses were distributed in just the first one.
They said expansion of the program “will be based on the need as we continue to monitor infection rates to reach areas being hardest hit.”