Kent County leverages mobile units in COVID-19 vaccination outreach

Kent County

A photo from the Kent County Health Department shows one of its three mobile units being used in COVID-19 vaccine outreach.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Kent County Health Department recently received another mobile unit through a state program, bringing its fleet to three as it rolls out the vans to get COVID-19 vaccines into communities.

Kent County Health Department spokesman Steve Kelso acknowledged the vans are not going to serve as many people as the now-shuttered mass vaccination site at DeVos Place in downtown Grand Rapids — which saw more than 230,000 shots administered over the course of about five months — but he said they are key in a hyper-targeted strategy moving forward.

“They are allowing us to reach people where they are and … enhance our collaborative efforts with community partners and stakeholders,” Kelso told News 8 in a Wednesday email. “Many people told us that one of the barriers to going to a mass vaccination clinic was transportation. These units help us eliminate a lot of transportation issues.”

Kelso said the three vans are being used nearly every day. They get sent to community and pop-up clinics at places like churches and parks, including a Juneteenth celebration at Dickinson Buffer Park in Grand Rapids over the weekend. There, health care workers can give shots to those who want them.

Each van is equipped with a refrigerator and freezer, Kelso said. That means vaccine doses can be kept at the right temperature. There are small preparation and treatment areas where shots can be readied and administered. The units also have restrooms.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has facilitated six such mobile units being used around the state as part of coronavirus response efforts: two are out of Wayne State University, one is in Genesee County, one in Ingham County, one in Muskegon County and one in Kent County. Wayne State got theirs in December and January, Genesee in December, Ingham in April, and Muskegon and Kent in late May.

The units provided through MDHHS were paid for using grants backed by 2020 federal coronavirus relief dollars. The Gorno Ford dealership in the Detroit area helped equip them and teach local health departments about them.

Some counties are also using their vans to help with COVID-19 testing or distribution of personal protective equipment. Kelso said Kent County’s use currently focuses on vaccinations.

“The reality is that not everyone has access to a primary care provider and public health has long worked to fill those gaps by providing health care services to those in need,” Kent County Community Clinical Services Division Director Christopher Bendekgey said in a Wednesday statement provided by MDHHS. “This last 16 months has been no different. The pandemic brought upon many challenges to health care providers and public health alike, however, through the use of the mobile health van, we have been able to bring COVID testing and vaccinations to many who may not otherwise had access, particularly in those communities who have been disproportionally impacted during the pandemic.”

Kelso said that post-pandemic, the units can be used for other vaccination efforts and for testing for sexually transmitted infections.

In fact, this week, one will be used for a National HIV Testing Day event. The health department and the Grand Rapids Red Project are holding free HIV testing from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday in the parking lot across the street from the Kent County Sheldon Complex at 121 Franklin St. SE in Grand Rapids. Health officials will also answer anyone’s questions about HIV.

“Because of the versatility of the units, it is very possible that we will discover many other uses for them as we continue to emerge from the pandemic,” Kelso wrote.

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