Community Clinics Hopeful as They Begin Vaccinating Against COVID-19

by Sally James

People who provide health care at a variety of clinics around South Seattle are getting vaccines against COVID-19, including some of the staff at International Community Health Services (ICHS), Neighborcare Health, HealthPoint, and Country Doctor.

Last February, ICHS was the first community health center in the United States to see a positive COVID-19 diagnosis. However, despite being early hit by the pandemic, the center managed to avoid an outbreak the entire year. Since then, the nonprofit has helped set best practices guiding the response of the nation’s nearly 1,400 federally qualified health centers.

In December, ICHS became one of the first Seattle-area health centers to receive doses of the Moderna vaccine. The center immediately began vaccinating its frontline health workers and then residents of the ICHS Legacy House Assisted Living facility. Once Legacy House residents are vaccinated, the center will begin vaccinating non-clinical ICHS staff, eventually moving to high-risk patients with multiple comorbidities.

Acupuncture expert Ping Yang received the Moderna vaccine just before New Year’s Eve at the International District clinic. Yang said, “The vaccine is good for me, my family, my community and the world!” Her comment was part of a press release from ICHS. “The mood has definitely changed here,” wrote Theodore Bickel of ICHS in an email to the Emerald. “Residents (and staff) have gone through a lot of stress.”

Eduardo Wally Aguilar, a medical assistant manager with Country Doctor, vaccinates Esmeralda Switzer, a clinic administrator with Neighborcare Health on Thursday, Jan. 7 at a vaccine clinic for health care workers in Renton. (Photo: Susan Fried)

Some community members felt great relief or were even elated upon getting their vaccinations at ICHS. The clinic primarily serves low-income people of Asian cultures, some of whom have faced increased bias and discrimination since Covid-19 first appeared in Wuhan, China, earlier this year. 

Community clinics like ICHS, wrote Bickel, have been critical in addressing health inequities during the pandemic, “not only treating patients, but also in getting out accurate information, connecting patients to unemployment resources, helping enroll in insurance, and advocating for health equity and fighting discrimination.”

In another community clinic vaccination effort this December, a joint evening event was organized by HealthPoint, including both Neighborcare and Country Doctor, at a Renton testing area that usually provides diagnostic testing during the day. HealthPoint uses the Renton area for drive-through COVID-19 tests during the day and re-purposed it for vaccinations that evening.

Tamara Bass, a medical assistant with Neighborcare Health makes sure she has the correct information before giving a fellow health care worker a vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 7, during a vaccine clinic for health care workers in Renton. (Photo: Susan Fried)

Tamara Bass works as a manager and medical assistant for Neighborcare Health. She was pleased to get the Moderna vaccine on Dec. 30. She understands why People of Color can have a lack of trust in medical institutions and believes as a Black health care worker she can be an example within the community. The mother of two helps manage other medical assistants but also sees patients as part of her work. She said Neighborcare has had patients with COVID-19. 

National polls and reporting show that Black and other People of Color said they were less likely to get any of the multiple COVID-19 vaccines than white communities. This is part of a historical record of inequity in treatment including the famous Tuskegee experiment in Alabama. A CNN story from Dec. 18 reported that about one-third of Black people polled said they would not choose to get the vaccine. The poll in the story was done by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation. 

While Black and Brown communities may be less likely to take vaccines, they are more likely to die of COVID-19, as reported in the Emerald.

Rebecca Crandell, a medical assistant at HealthPoint, applies a Band-Aid after vaccinating a fellow healthcare worker on Thursday, Jan. 7 at a drive-through clinic in Renton. (Photo: Susan Fried)

The state of Washington has a plan for how the limited amount of vaccine will be distributed. Health care workers and residents of nursing homes are first in line. Wider distribution will add essential workers and people over age 75. As of press time, however, the future allocation of vaccines was in flux due to changes that might come with the new Biden administration. 

The Moderna and Pfizer-Biontech vaccines are the first two of many that could be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In the meantime, the two vaccines are legal to distribute via an emergency use authorization granted by the FDA in December, 2020. A third vaccine, from AstraZeneca, was approved for use in the United Kingdom, but has not been approved by U.S. regulators yet. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines require a second dose, given at three or four weeks after the first. 

There are a variety of places online where you can read information about the vaccination process, including the Public Health — Seattle & King County website. The State Department of Health reported roughly 110,000 people in the state had received a first dose of vaccine as of Jan. 6.  

More updates are available on the Washington State DOH website.

Sally James is a science writer in Seattle. You can read more of her work at She’s written about biotech, cancer research, and health literacy and volunteered as president of the nonprofit Northwest Science Writers Association.

Featured Image: Tamara Bass, Nieghborcare Health (Photo: Susan Fried)