As a volunteer with the UT Medical Reserve Corps, I began partnering with Shalonda Horton and Courtney Kaleta last July, and continued with Whitney Thurman this past October, in the delivery of vaccines to the unhoused population of Austin. This was accomplished through UT Austin’s Vaccine Administration Mobile Operations (VAMOS) program.
We work in tandem with community health workers from the UT Dell Medical School (e.g., Richard Johnson, Jr.) and Austin homeless advocates (e.g., Danielle Reichman) who serve as liaisons and frequently are acquainted with the homeless folks through their work on the streets of Austin. They act as intermediaries for us so that people like me–although I wear a burnt orange UTMRC T-shirt and have a UT ID–don’t have to “cold-call” the homeless who are understandably leery of strangers in their midst. These liaisons also offer practical information about support programs that help the homeless folks get food, phones, shelter with a roof and specialized medical care.
The process generally works this way: a liaison approaches a tent or an individual and gauges their interest in getting a vaccine while the two RNs– a UTSON faculty member and a UTMRC volunteer–deliver the vaccine and document the encounter once the individual agrees. We offer them water, fruit, and snacks regardless of whether they decide to take a vaccine. Just as with the population at-large, reactions to receiving a vaccine include vaccine hesitancy, nervousness, and pre-injection requests for additional information, but overwhelmingly it is relief and gratitude that are expressed after they’ve received the shot.
We’ve been to encampments all over Austin, including below I-35’s upper deck; in the traffic medians of Riverside Drive and Ben White Boulevard; on the shores of Lake Lady Bird; and we experienced a very fruitful visit to a large washateria off 290 East.
Every injection we are able to administer is one more person who otherwise very likely would not have received one because the ability to access this free, life-saving medicine is overwhelmingly difficult. We “meet people where they are”, as the saying goes, which decreases the chance that someone will have to choose between getting a vaccine or finding a place to get their next meal.
The belief in access to healthcare for all people, with special concern for the poor and others who are disadvantaged, inspired my career as a healthcare provider that spans some 50 years, mostly in trauma/emergency medicine and emergency preparedness. I am privileged to be able to continue this mission through UTMRC and UTSON’s VAMOS program.
I have a BSN from UT Medical Branch in Galveston and a BS in Physician Assistant Studies from UT Health Science Center-Dallas (now UT Southwestern).