Outside the Urban League of Greater Madison building on Tuesday, two DJs played music, blasting peppy tunes on speakers, while people danced and laughed around them. Inside, volunteers chatted and smiled as they manned tables and handed out bottles of water. For all the appearance of a standard community gathering, the event actually was a pop-up vaccine clinic.
SSM Health, in partnership with the Urban League and other community organizations, hosted the clinic as part of their vaccination efforts, which in part includes events geared at getting under-vaccinated populations access to the shot. At the clinic, anybody 12 and over could walk in, ask questions about the vaccine and get the jab if they wanted, although minors needed parental consent.
In Dane County, 61.7 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, but only 28.9 percent of Black residents and only 44.9 percent of Latino people are fully vaccinated.
Part of boosting access, SSM Communications Consultant Senior Lisa Adams said, was meeting people where they were at and meeting their needs. That includes bare bones communication: at the event, bilingual translators kept busy, predominantly translating Spanish. There were videos on hand with ASL instructions, and a phone line to call in if language skills were needed that someone in-person couldn’t provide.
But that also involves going into communities and making the events feel like home. Most volunteers at the event were Black — many hailing from local Black organizations, churches, and even national Black sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha alumni who lived in Madison. The vaccinators were volunteers from Sable Flames, a group of Black firefighters predominantly from the greater Madison area. Local SSM nurses came in and entered vaccine information into the Wisconsin registry.
At the clinic, the second iteration of its kind in Madison, 97 total doses were administered. That included 45 second dose Pfizer vaccinations for people who had come and gotten their first dose at the previous clinic. Seventeen doses of Johnson & Johnson were administered, along with 35 first doses of the Pfizer vaccine.
The SSM clinics offer the Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccine to patients, and they get to choose which one they want for their first dose — and only dose, if they go with Johnson & Johnson. Adams said she hasn’t noticed any specific trend for people preferring one or the other.
“I wouldn’t say that there’s a big preference either way, but there’s a very definite preference. There are people who very definitely only want one of the shots,” Adams said. “They may have an allergy, they may know someone who had a bad reaction.”
While the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was paused briefly this year, its use was resumed shortly after. And although that turned some patients off that vaccine, the clinic has seen renewed interest.
“Some people just have anxiety and nervousness after the Johnson & Johnson pause, but we’ve noticed another pickup of people who want it,” Adams said.
Dr Marcus Allen Sr, the pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Madison, made an appearance at the event so his son could get his second dose of Pfizer. He brought with him his family, and it was clear SSM’s attempts to find community within the event was successful — many volunteers knew him and greeted him as “Reverend,” and he shook hands and took pictures with many volunteers manning the tables.
Allen had already been vaccinated, and he’s made efforts to make sure his congregation gets the jab, too. He said that in a survey he administered at the church, the vast majority of respondents said they planned on being vaccinated or were vaccinated already.
Allen’s openly passionate about the vaccine, making clear it was a priority not only for his sake, but also his community’s at large.
“I’m trying to make sure everybody stays safe, make sure we can travel, make sure we’re taking care of ourselves and the people around us that we love,” Allen said.
For those who didn’t want to get vaccinated yet, some of them are nervous or wanting to wait and see how it turns out for others. Allen’s been using his personal experiences to try and make people comfortable: “I’m trying to tell my people it’s safe, I took it.”
And his expertise as a pastor comes in handy, too.
“Some just say their faith won’t allow them to take the vaccine,” he said. “I believe God made the doctors, God made the scientists, and made the vaccine come so we can be safe and be around each other in fellowship and have a good time.”
All the various efforts in the community seem to be having some influence, too. Adams said that the majority of the people she’s seen at the clinics have been people of color, including many families coming in together. At the first clinic, one child came in on his twelfth birthday — the first day he’d legally qualify for the vaccine — and got the jab. Afterwards, everyone sang him happy birthday and cheered.
The next clinic in the series comes July 6. More information will become available as the event draws nearer.