A newly vaccinated youth reaches for a souvenir button at a Vax to the Max event at the ShoWare Events Center.

King County Vax to the Max Program Uses Art and Music to Ease Vaccine Anxieties

by Chamidae Ford


Employees at Public Health – Seattle & King County (PHSKC) were recently brainstorming about ways to increase vaccinations in the County while decreasing anxiety around the experience.

“The challenge was that it’s a very new event. It’s very scary. People don’t know what to expect, both for getting the vaccine but even going to these events themselves,” Karla Jimenez-Magdaleno, a communications specialist at PHSKC, said. “And I love music. I love events. I love feeling like there’s a party going on because I think that’s part of community building.” So the team decided to try to bring that energy to vaccination events.

To achieve this lively and joyful experience, PHSKC has partnered with 4Culture to create Vax to the Max. Inspired in part by the Pierce County Vax to the Future program, Vax to the Max is incorporating music and art into vaccination sites.

PHSKC opted to partner with 4Culture because of their long history of being an organization dedicated to encouraging and supporting culture in King County. These events feature artists from the 4Culture’s touring arts roster, a collection of musicians who have already auditioned and been selected as potential performers.

The pilot program of Vax to the Max has already held three events. The Washington Hall vaccine event in the Central District featured performances from Miz Floes and the Jazzy Sol Band and Elnah Jordan. In Kent, the Seattle Women’s Steel Pan Project played, and Mambo Cadillac performed at the Auburn vaccine event.

The Seattle Women's Steel Pan Project performed for individuals getting vaccinated at the Vax to the Max event at the ShoWare Events Center in Kent on May 15, 2021.
The Seattle Women’s Steel Pan Project performed for individuals getting vaccinated at the Vax to the Max event at the ShoWare Events Center in Kent on May 15, 2021. (Photo: Erin Murphy)

Doreen Mitchum, the arts program manager for 4Culture, has attended each vaccine event. She found that the music creates a fun experience, not just for those being vaccinated but also for the people working the event.

“People seem to really enjoy it, but especially the people that were staffing the sites, because they were there the whole time,” Mitchum said. “The staff really, really enjoyed it and appreciated it.”

Even though a mass vaccine event has much less lead time than a typical music or culture festival, PHSKC and 4Culture have been paying careful attention to picking musicians who are a good fit for each particular event. 

“For the community vaccination events, we want to create a space where the artists that are performing, reflect those who are getting vaccinated or are from those communities,” Jimenez-Magdaleno said.

A smiling performer for the Seattle Women's Steel Pan Project plays for individuals getting vaccinated at the Vax to the Max event at the ShoWare Events Center in Kent on May 15, 2021.
A smiling performer for the Seattle Women’s Steel Pan Project plays for individuals getting vaccinated at the Vax to the Max event at the ShoWare Events Center in Kent on May 15, 2021. (Photo: Erin Murphy)

Beyond music, Vax to the Max has also incorporated visual artists into the program. Featuring eight different local artists, each has created a vaccine-related image that has been turned into a button as a souvenir for those who have just been vaccinated.

“What we wanted to do is to provide a little take-home gift to folks who are getting vaccinated,” Jimenz- Magdaleno said, “because this is a pretty historic moment, and we want it to really celebrate local artists and folks in the creative economy who had been out of work for quite a while.”

Like the intentionally chosen musicians, the artists who created the designs for the buttons represent the diverse King County community. 

“What I find really wonderful about this partnership is that Public Health is really trying to support artists in King County and incorporate the voice of artists,” Christina DePaolo, the director of communications for 4Culture, said. The images and phrases on the buttons work to “spread a lot of love,” she added.

While Vax to the Max doesn’t have a specific goal around the number of vaccines given, their primary focus is to improve the experience of those in attendance.  

“Every individual’s experience is credibly valuable, and sometimes just as valuable as ‘how many numbers did we get’ because the people who have positive experiences and share it with other people in their own communities, they’ll be able to encourage others to get vaccinated,” Jimenez-Magdaleno said. “So that’s our goal. It’s trying to give the best experience possible that reduces anxieties and that they can then spread the word within other communities to increase vaccinations.” 

Stay up to date on when upcoming Vax to the Max events will be on the 4Culture news page.


Chamidae Ford is currently a senior journalism major at the University of Washington. Born and raised in Western Washington, she has a passion for providing a voice to the communities around her. She has written for The Daily, GRAY Magazine, and Capitol Hill Seattle. You can reach Chamidae Ford at IG/Twitter: @chamidaeford.

📸 Featured Image: A newly vaccinated youth reaches for a souvenir button at a Vax to the Max event at the ShoWare Events Center in Kent. Eight different local King County artists have created a vaccine-related image that has been turned into a button as a souvenir for those who have just been vaccinated. (Photo: Erin Murphy)

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