Small clinics and churches work to increase COVID-19 vaccine access in vulnerable communities

GALENA PARK, Texas (KTRK) -- Inside the Galena Park Family Clinic, Olga Pacheco was excited that she could bring her mom, Maria, for a COVID-19 vaccine.

"We live so close. Sometimes, we don't have a vehicle to go farther," said Olga. "You know how they have shots downtown? That's too far. Right here ... it's perfect. It's great for us."

The 200 doses distributed to the clinic is a first for the east Harris County community. The amount may seem trivial compared to the 6,000 shots given every day at NRG Park in Houston, but in this working class, mostly Hispanic enclave, it's a cause for celebration.

"It takes all of us working together to make sure we deliver the services to this area," said Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia, who represents the area and came to tour the facility. "For this city, who's been waiting 200 shots, this is a great start, we just need to be here the next 200 days with the same amount."

That's the challenge for so many vulnerable communities.

READ ALSO: Small community clinics provide crucial link in getting doses to vulnerable communities
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The FEMA site at NRG Park will provide tens of thousands of COVID-19 vaccines in six weeks, but challenges persist over getting them to the most vulnerable populations. And even as neighborhood clinics get more vaccines, the video above explains an additional obstacle these clinics face.

With seniors who may have language barriers or transportation problems, getting the vaccines to where they live, instead of requiring long drives, is crucial to get the vaccination rates up.

"The need is out there, even though you see all the big centers set up all over the city, there's still so many people out there that have not been vaccinated," said Dr. Rubin Shah.

READ ALSO: 13 Investigates: Houston-area residents 'hurting' in low income, minority areas without vaccines
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13 Investigates found "vaccine desert" neighborhoods have more minorities, less access to the internet, less insurance coverage and make less money.

Meanwhile, in north Harris County, Fallbrook Church is tackling the vaccine deficit in the African American community head on.

"If we were a vaccination site on campus, I say this with all humility, I know our area can easily do 100,000 people," said Sr. Pastor Michael Pender.

Even though the church hosted COVID-19 testing and was even a drive-thru voting location, state officials are only distributing vaccines to medical facilities. So, the church did the next best thing: it partnered with a major hospital.

"Houston Methodist reached out because they are looking for underserved communities, and we certainly fit that, so we agreed and we started registrations," explained Pender.

The web portal launched by the church and Houston Methodist has signed up 12,000 people in about two weeks. Plus, the number is only growing. It is focused on those who are 50 or older in the north Harris County region.

Experts said these creative outreach programs, and putting more vaccines into communities where people live, will play a big role in increasing vaccine rates.

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