vaccine syringes

City Touts Free Vaccination Sites for Uninsured in South Seattle, but Limited Dates Available

by Carolyn Bick

Though officials say this year’s expanded flu vaccination clinic offerings are specifically meant to serve uninsured and underinsured communities of color and people experiencing homelessness, many of whom live in South Seattle, most of the clinics available in South Seattle appear to have relatively few open clinic slots.

The City of Seattle has partnered with the Seattle Visiting Nurse Association (SVNA) this year in an effort to bring 14,000 free flu vaccinations to the uninsured, underinsured and homeless community this year, Mayor Jenny Durkan announced in a press conference on Oct. 20. The City has used $150,000 in CARES Act funding to purchase some of these vaccines.

During the press conference, Public Health — Seattle & King County (PHSKC) Dir. Patty Hayes said that “we will be emphasizing vaccine access to communities of color, particularly in South Seattle and South King County.”

“Community partners are working with us in the cities to identify the most effective outreach strategies,” Hayes said.

Hayes did not clarify who these community partners or what these strategies are, but PHSKC Communications Dir. James Apa told the Emerald in a later email that these community partners include “HealthierHere, the Center for Multicultural Health, International Community Health Services, APICAT, the Kent School District, Showalter Middle School in Tukwila, Holy Temple Church in Skyway, Integrity Life Church in Federal Way, and others.”

The SVNA has set up 14 drive-through clinics in Seattle, seven of which are located in South Seattle, with one of those seven on Vashon Island. Both insured and uninsured children and adults are welcome at the various sites, and vaccinations are free. The SVNA clinics accept both walk-up and drive-up appointments, but people must register for an appointment.

However, based on the registration form on SVNA’s website, the clinics in South Seattle appear to have just a handful of days they will be operating, with little overlap in dates. The Emerald has followed up with both PHSKC and the SVNA to ask why there are such limited operating times for these sites, particularly since limiting the number of and operating hours of clinics would appear to make it difficult, if not impossible, for people who hold multiple jobs — often Black people, and most often Black women — to attend them. It has also asked if there will be transportation assistance for people who cannot easily get to any of these sites.

Apa told the Emerald in an email that the partnership with SVNA is part of a larger countywide effort that will involve providing more than “100,000 doses of free flu vaccine to uninsured and underinsured adults, through clinics where people get their health care, and through other means.”

Apa didn’t detail these other means, but said that the PHSKC is spending $900,000 of local, state, and federal funds to “go above and beyond” usual flu season outreach activities. He outlined several measures — which include mobile vaccination teams, offering flu vaccinations at COVID-19 testing sites, and “conducting outreach in the African American, African born and Asian American communities in King County” — and said that the department was working to finalize plans and hoped to share those details in the near future. He didn’t specifically address the question about limited date options at the SVNA South Seattle sites.

Additionally, while language assistance will be available at the Genesee Park site, appears this is currently the only SVNA site that will have language assistance available. Apa appeared to indicate that language access will be a feature of future flu vaccination site offerings, saying that “we will publicize availability of interpretive services when we have finalized the details of our additional south King County flu vaccine offerings.”

The SVNA has also partnered with Seattle Public Schools (SPS) to offer flu clinics in September and October. According to SPS’s flu clinic webpage, there were 24 drive-through flu clinic “events” scheduled at 13 Seattle schools between September and October, but based on the information available on SNVA’s registration page, it appears that most of these events at these schools have ended, as there are just a handful of future clinics scheduled for flu clinic sites situated at schools.

Apa said that transportation assistance “to a vaccination site is not specifically part of this program, but King County METRO offers deeply discounted bus passes for low income individuals.” He also said that PHSKC is working to make as many vaccination site options available as possible.

Though both Hayes and Durkan affirmed that there would be flu vaccination outreach for people experiencing homelessness, neither Hayes nor Durkan offered specific information about that outreach. In response to a question from KOMO reporter Jonathan Cho, Hayes said that outreach teams will “get out as far as we can go.

“With the encampments that are in some of the extended areas, we will have to rely — because we don’t always know where all the encampments are — we will be working with partners and sending out our teams with those partners to get as far and wide as we can,” Hayes said. Again, she did not name these community partners or offer any more specifics.

In response to a question about this from the Emerald, Durkan said that the City “will have programs to go into encampments, into shelters, into permanent supportive housing.” When the Emerald followed up with the Mayor’s office to ask about program specifics, the office said PHSKC will have more information about this. 

In response to the Emerald‘s questions regarding homelessness outreach details, has followed up with PHSKC to ask about homelessness outreach details — including what community partners PHSKC is working with, what these outreach teams will look like, and whether there are vaccines specifically put aside for people experiencing homelessness — Apa said that PHSKC’s two mobile medical vans and street medicine team will, as it has for the past three years, provide free vaccinations. Last flu season, he said, the team provided 1,300 vaccinations.

“So far this season, the mobile team has scheduled approximately 100 vaccine clinics at homeless service sites, correctional facilities, syringe exchange programs, and correctional facilities through November,” Apa said.

More information on vaccine clinics can be found on PHSKC’s vaccination clinic webpage.

Carolyn Bick is a journalist and photographer based in South Seattle. You can reach them here and here.

Featured image listed as free for commercial use from neelam279 on PixaBay.

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