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How this mobile healthcare unit represents the last mile of the coronavirus pandemic

As vice president of operations for a shipping company in Valencia, Marco Pelaez did everything he could to keep his employees safe during the coronavirus pandemic, from mandatory testing, social distancing, issuing personal protective gear and allowing employees to take time off for even the slightest illness.

But when it came time to get vaccinated, many of the 400 employees at AMS Fulfillment were resistant for various reasons, Pelaez said.



“Now that the vaccinations are available, I felt like there was a circle that hasn’t been closed yet,” Pelaez said. “The next part was going to be the hardest.”

Pelaez turned to Veritas Testing & Vaccines, a privately-owned mobile COVID clinic based in Manhattan Beach that offers testing and vaccinations at sites throughout Los Angeles County.

In May, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health coordinated with 126 mobile sites like the one operated by Veritas. The service comes at no charge to participants or the organizations that host the mobile unit. Charges are ultimately billed to either the patient’s insurance company or reimbursed through Coronavirus Relief Funds.

The company strives to vaccinate more of the people in the hardest hit communities, including largely Black and Latino populations where essential jobs and close living conditions spread the virus more easily.

In L.A. County, 67% of residents aged 16 and over have received at least one dose of the vaccine with 58% fully vaccinated, as of June 20, according to DPH. By race and ethnicity, differences in vaccination rates are stark, with 74% of Asians and 64% of Whites with at least one dose, while 44% of Blacks and 53% of Latinos had at least one dose.

Pelaez wanted to make it as easy as possible for employees to get vaccinated. He also figured that if they could see their fellow coworkers receiving the vaccine, maybe it would encourage more people to get it.

The plan worked, Pelaez said. At the first clinic, about 70 employees and their family members got vaccinated. At the next, close to 100 more received shots. Altogether, close to 40% of workers are now at least partially vaccinated, he said.

And now there is even more interest, so Pelaez is scheduling another visit with Veritas on July 15.

“All of the employees who didn’t want to get the vaccine, they are coming to me asking when the next vaccine clinic will be,” Pelaez said.

An even greater motivator was the ability to take their mask off once workers were fully vaccinated.

“Workers were really happy to take their masks off,” he said.

Kristopher Sims, managing partner of Veritas, said the idea for the company came a year ago in June when coronavirus testing was pretty abysmal. Test results were taking two weeks and spots were difficult to come by, he said.

Originally, they focused on testing at critical businesses that needed to stay open during the shutdown. As the pandemic progressed, their focus shifted to industries that were reopening such as Hollywood productions. Then the vaccine arrived and they began working with businesses such as AMS.

“It’s most useful in an employer setting where someone doesn’t have the free time or they have infrequent interactions with the healthcare system,” Sims said.

Partnering with DPH directed some of their efforts to underserved communities. They arrive at churches, cafes, school districts, career centers and more. They set up shop at Hermosa Beach Pier Plaza on Memorial Day.

Sims said the key is partnering with respected people in the community where they are going.

“A random person telling you to get vaccinated is not going to change your mind,” Sims said. “What you want is someone respected in the community doing outreach.”

On Sunday, June 27, the team arrived in downtown Los Angeles to set up a pop-up clinic at LAPD Rampart Division headquarters with the nonprofit CIELO. This women-led group represents migrant Indigenous communities in L.A., mostly from Guatemala and Oaxaca, Mexico.

A team of two vaccinators and three to sign people up set up under pop-up tents to administer shots. They were joined by others that handed out bags of groceries and a  hot lunch and offered health screenings.

Isai Pazos, the group’s director for vaccines said it was a way of meeting several demands at one time. The clinics have been a big success in getting more members of their community vaccinated, he said. Every two to three weeks they hold a vaccine clinic and have so far administered vaccines to more than 2,000 people. They would do about 300 vaccinations on Sunday, he said.

“We are trying to increase the numbers by educating people because they are getting a lot of false information from unreliable sources,” Pazos said.

One of the rumors, he said, suggested that people would turn into zombies or they would not be able to have children as a result of the vaccine, both of which are false. A motivating factor to get the vaccine, Pazos said, is that people can attend parties again without a mask.

Odilia Romero, executive director for CIELO, said it was a challenge reaching members of the indigenous community because not all of them speak Spanish. There are a collection of 21 languages spoken by members of CIELO, she said.

“It’s really important to be here because this is the largest population of indigenous people from Guatemala,” she said.

One of those vaccinated Sunday was Apolonio Jurez from Guatemala, who explained in his native K’iche, a Mayan language, through multiple translators — one from K’iche to Spanish, the other from Spanish to English — why he got the vaccine.

“I got it because it’s the right thing to do,” he said.

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Source: Orange County Register

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