Washtenaw County launches pop-up events to distribute COVID vaccine where it's needed most

With an extra supply of 2,500 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, the Washtenaw County Health Department has launched a series of five vaccination pop-up events targeted at residents living in areas that have high social vulnerability according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The events aim to reduce barriers to vaccination for communities of color and address the racial disparities in the county's vaccine distribution so far. Events have been held at churches and schools in Ypsilanti, Pittsfield Township, and Ann Arbor. 

Despite many residents being willing and able to receive a vaccination, the low supply has made distribution a slow process. These extra doses, obtained through the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services' Community Outreach COVID-19 Pilot Project, have been useful additions to the main distributions already taking place.   

“It is incredibly exciting not only to have three effective vaccines, but to see that availability really start to pick up,” says Susan Ringler Cerniglia, the health department’s public information officer. “It’s frustrating and hard for all of us to have vaccine available, but have it be in such small amounts. The statewide eligibility opened up really quickly. It was even harder that so many folks were eligible for vaccine, but couldn’t get it. We want nothing more than to vaccinate everyone that is willing.” 

This set of pop-up events is not the first of its kind the health department has held. Past events have focused on vaccinating educators, school employees, and those in congregate settings including jails, prisons, shelters, and senior living communities. The county's Nurse on the Run program has also provided vaccines for senior citizens in their homes.

The final event of the series will be a drive-through event today from 2-7 p.m. at New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church, 2345 Tyler Rd. in Ypsilanti Township. After this set of events is over, the health department will continue to survey the county to provide easier vaccine accessibility in areas that need it most. 

“Some of the things we’re looking at, in addition to where we see the more severe impact in Ypsilanti ZIP codes, are our communities of color, particularly our African-American, Latino, and Hispanic communities,” says Ringler Cerniglia. 

The first event of this series was held entirely in Spanish. The health department worked with local Latinx organizations and community members to improve accessibility for the event. It was successful, with almost 200 people receiving a vaccination. 

“One of the things that we know is that having methods and information come from people that we know and trust is so important, especially for communities where there may be less access to general information because of language, because of trust, or frankly because the amount of information is so overwhelming,” says Ringler Cerniglia. “You don’t know what to believe and trust. Having that directly come from someone that you know, and who respects the community, is so critical.”

To learn more about COVID-19 vaccinations in Washtenaw County, visit the health department’s website.  

For more Concentrate coverage of our community's response to the COVID-19 crisis, click here.

Maria Patton is a lifelong Ypsilanti resident. She is currently a student at the University of Michigan, working towards a bachelor’s degree in communications and media. You can find more of her work in The Michigan Daily, where she is a columnist for the Michigan in Color section. She can be reached at pattonma@umich.edu.