Putting People at Ease by Providing Vaccines at Familiar Community Locations

Pharmacist Pamela Wiltfang (center) coordinated with community volunteers Ellen Alexander (left) and Paola Jaramillo Guayara (right) to set up local COVID-19 vaccine clinics for underserved and non—English–speaking people in Coralville, Iowa.

“Some people were afraid to share any information to get vaccinated due to their undocumented or non-citizen status for fear of deportation,” said Pamela (Wong) Wiltfang, PharmD, referring to many members of the community who visit a local food pantry in Coralville, Iowa. She tackled this predicament by setting up a mass vaccination event at the reassuring location.

Because Coralville Community Food Pantry is such a trusted organization, many pantry volunteers, staff, and people from the community contributed their time to support the vaccination event. “Through our connection with the University of Iowa College of Pharmacy, we engaged student pharmacist volunteers in addition to our staff that normally run the clinics,” said Wiltfang, Director of Clinical Services and Innovative Practice at NuCara Health Solutions. Volunteers were integral in assisting with all aspects of the vaccination efforts to ensure its success—and the pharmacists administered COVID-19 vaccines to more than 600 people during one of the clinics.

Many socioeconomically disadvantaged, non–English-speaking, and undocumented people attended the event. The vaccine recipients were culturally diverse, needing translators for multiple languages, including Spanish, Russian, and Arabic. The translators focused on communicating with patients in their native languages to help them overcome their fears about getting the vaccine. “Spanish was the most accessed language, with about a third of participants speaking absolutely no English at all,” said Wiltfang, who is Chinese-American and able to converse with patients who speak Cantonese and Mandarin.

Volunteers helped with transportation needs because some patients didn’t have the means to get to the vaccination site on the day of the event. “We had the ability to provide transportation to and from the vaccine clinic, so we had a chance to vaccinate a huge population that would not have been able to get to a pharmacy or other vaccine clinics,” said Wiltfang.

Many people in the Coralville community had fears about possible long-term adverse effects from the COVID-19 vaccine since it had not been available for very long. To put them at ease, Wiltfang tells the people in her community, “The long-term effects of the COVID-19 virus we’ve seen have been worse [than side effects of the vaccine]; people [who have had the disease] have had extended issues with breathing, loss of taste, and other concerns. Getting COVID-19 disease has been more severe and has caused more hospitalizations and deaths than any potential [adverse] effect from the vaccine.” She also explains to patients how the vaccine works and answers any questions they may have to help persuade them to get the vaccine to protect themselves and their loved ones.

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Undocumented or non-citizen community members had additional fears far beyond the vaccine itself. They also worried about the possibility of being flagged for deportation from the country and separated from their families. Wiltfang said it was difficult to convince them to get the vaccine because they were afraid to give out too much information. “We asked for IDs and insurance cards, but some people refused; we didn’t want to push it. Name and birth date was the minimum that we asked for, so we didn’t hinder anybody from getting the vaccine,” she said. Wiltfang also had them fill out as much of the vaccine questionnaire as possible in order to check that they didn’t have any past medical history that would make it inadvisable for them to be vaccinated.

Partnering with the local food pantry made an enormous difference in helping community members feel comfortable attending the vaccine clinic set up in a familiar place. “Working together with your team and community partners toward a common positive goal can make a lasting impact on your community and an even larger impact on the nation,” said Wiltfang.

As of May 2021, Wiltfang estimates over 35,000 people have been immunized as a result of her efforts with NuCara Pharmacy.

Community Outreach Tools and COVID-19 vaccine Patient Resources are available by clicking the hyperlinks.