Pharmacy-Led Mobile Clinic Delivers Vaccine Confidence to Underserved Communities

Pharmacists Merica and Ted Lyons with their ShotRx mobile immunization clinic before a Health Night promotion at a Memphis Grizzlies game.

Pharmacists Merica and Ted Lyons with their ShotRx mobile immunization clinic before a Health Night promotion at a Memphis Grizzlies game.

ShotRx mobile clinic provides COVID-19 vaccinations at community events in underserved areas around Memphis, Tennessee. During a recent event at a school in a low-resourced neighborhood, clinic staff noticed they were being watched. On the front porch of the house across the street sat a woman, who appeared to be the matriarch of the household, and about six or seven adolescents and young adults.

So, we asked them, ‘Y’all going to get your vaccines?’ And the mother said, ‘Oh no, I ain’t getting vaccinated,’” recalled Merica Lyons, PharmD, who co-owns and operates ShotRx with her husband, Ted Lyons, PharmD.

For the next 2 hours, as patients moved through the clinic, the family across the street continued to observe. Then, finally, the mother figure made her way across the street, rolled up her sleeve, and asked for the vaccine. After the 15-minute waiting period, she crossed the street, went back into her house, and a moment later, others emerged and went over to get vaccinated, too.

“She watched and saw that we were taking good care of everybody, so she came across, and then she went back and won the rest of her family over, too,” Merica Lyons said. “When we go into the community, there’s always a leader. If you can instill confidence in the leader, then they will get everyone else to come.”

In March 2021, Merica and Ted Lyons launched ShotRx with the mission of taking vaccines into underserved areas and earning the trust of the community. They have fulfilled this mission by bringing their mobile clinic to about 700 events at schools, churches, shopping centers, and community centers in underserved, predominantly Black and Brown communities around Memphis, where they have administered more than 16,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

Their mission was inspired in part by their participation in the CDC’s READII (Racial and Ethnic Adult Disparities in Immunization Initiative) project 20 years ago, where they received training in reaching members of underserved communities to address hesitancy around influenza vaccinations.

“What we learned was that in Black, Hispanic, Indian, and other underserved communities, you have to be in the community to make the change,” Ted Lyons said. “You have to meet the thought leaders, whether it’s a community activist, pastor, or other influencer—and when they bring you in, you gain the trust of the others.”

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The Lyonses have had numerous experiences in which this concept has borne out with one local resident getting vaccinated and dozens following. Sometimes it’s a matriarch, like the one who observed from her porch. Other times, it may be a kid.

Ted Lyons recalls vaccinating a 14-year-old girl who cried loudly through the whole process, but the moment it was over, she stopped.

“She was like, ‘That’s it? That was nothing.’ She immediately got up and started telling everybody to get vaccinated. And more people started coming after she said that,” Ted Lyons said. “We did many vaccinations that day, and she was our best advocate.”

Even though COVID-19 vaccines have been available for more than 2 years now, ShotRx continues to see demand for COVID-19 vaccinations. Thanks to community donations and a $3.9 million grant from the Tennessee Department of Health, the Lyonses have expanded their operations to neighboring counties and upgraded their mobile operation from a caravan of cars to a ShotRx RV. The RV will make its inaugural voyage to a Memphis Grizzlies basketball game, where Merica and Ted Lyons and their vaccination team will continue to protect their city against COVID-19.

Access Community Outreach Tools and resources to Tailor Your Outreach to specific populations to help overcome COVID-19 vaccine concerns by visiting APhA’s Vaccine Confident microsite.