CHEER Keeps Promoting Vaccine Access

CHEER’s health team is always hard at work. To learn more about what the team has been up to over the past couple weeks, I turned to Kelly Umaña, CHEER’s Director of Health Programs. This is the first in an ongoing series of discussions that I’ll be having with Umaña.

Our exchange has been edited lightly.

What has CHEER’s health team been up to?

CHEER has been helping support more vaccine clinics in the Long Branch and Silver Spring community. Our goal is to ensure families have access to these health services and accurate information to make an informed decision about their health. We have presented at local schools to talk to families about COVID-19 vaccines and prevent COVID-19 from spreading in their homes and schools. This has been instrumental in really providing tailored information to all families in our community.

We are also organizing vaccine clinics hosted by Clifton Park Baptist Church for the rest of October to provide both COVID-19 and flu vaccines. Due to last year’s drop in influenza as a result of COVID-19 isolation, health experts are stating that we are likely going to see a “twindemic” with both COVID-19 and the flu. CHEER coordinated an effort with Maryland State Delegate Lorig Charkoudian and Clifton Park Baptist Church Outreach Coordinator Randi Drewry to ensure that flu vaccines are available regardless of health insurance.

Last week, we held the first COVID-19 and flu vaccine clinic at the church during their weekly food distribution. Thank you to Adventist Health Care and Safeway. 92 community members received the flu vaccine, and 11 received COVID-19 boosters.

A community member recently visited one of our clinics last week to get his COVID-19 booster vaccine. He mentioned to me that he received his vaccine at the mass vaccine site at Six Flags (in Upper Marlboro, Maryland) earlier this year. Unfortunately, he lost his vaccine card but kept record of the email confirmation of his second dose appointment. Based on the email and when he was scheduled, he was in fact eligible to receive his booster; however, since he lost his vaccine card, they could not confirm the date of when he received his second dose.

In Maryland, you can register using the Maryland My Immunization Record to get access to your vaccination records, including when you received your COVID-19 vaccine. When I made his account, they could not find his records. I called FIVE different phone numbers until I was able to reach the Maryland immunization customer service center and when they found his record, turns out, the vaccine site misspelled his last name and entered in a phone number that he was not associated with. After sharing the correct information with them, they were able to update his account. This process took 45 minutes to one hour. Luckily, through this persistence, he was able to get his booster vaccine that day. He also got a new vaccine card, and now has access to his vaccination information online.

We have come a long way from when the vaccines first rolled out to our community. We are not just your typical “pop-up” clinic, we are taking a holistic approach when interacting with community. What does this mean? We are ensuring that we keep a community connection and can address gaps in care, such as those noted earlier, with every person that we meet.

Has everything gone as planned?

Everything has gone very well due to CHEER’s great community partners who are always willing and ready to ensure our community members have access to all types of health care services.

What’s next for you and the rest of the health team?

We are preparing for the COVID-19 vaccine to become available to five to 11-year-olds. We are planning more education forums and vaccine clinics at elementary schools.

*This piece first appeared in CHEER’s blog.

Taylor Dibbert is a writer and journalist. He’s the author of the Peace Corps memoir “Fiesta of Sunset,” and is seeking representation for his first novel.