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Volunteers reduce barriers to care by providing COVID-19 shots at local schools

Jacqueline Castañeda receives COVID-19 vaccine in her arm from a medical student


A volunteer effort to protect vulnerable populations from COVID-19 entered a new phase this week. Students of the UC Davis School of Medicine and Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing give vaccinations to teens at two schools in Sacramento.

The volunteers took their pop-up clinic to Cristo Rey High School. Students on the Catholic campus attend classes four days a week and do internships once a week to offset tuition. Recently, employers who partner with Cristo Rey’s work-study program have demanded that all employees, including the interns, be vaccinated.

Volunteers meet for their Cristo Rey High School Clinic Briefing

Sixteen students received their Pfizer doses in the multipurpose room. About 85% of the students are vaccinated and the school is trying to increase that number to 100%.

“Making this accessible to students on campus is huge,” said director Kate Coulouras, as teens lined up to enroll in the clinic along with their parents. “Enabling students to walk out and enter the classroom” [multipurpose] room provides a level of comfort to our families who may not feel comfortable going to other places in the city,” she added.

The afternoon clinic was part of a vaccination initiative led by dedicated volunteers — including UC Davis students, faculty and other staff — who are committed to increasing vaccination rates in Sacramento County. The effort, which began in the summer, included temporary clinics in places such as low-income apartment complexes and supermarkets in areas where unvaccinated residents often lack factual information about COVID-19.

Volunteers also have a clinic scheduled at Samuel Jackman Middle School in Sacramento on Nov. 9.

Tuesday marked the third time this year that UC Davis attended a COVID-19 clinic in Cristo Rey.

The first two visits were organized by community partners who invited UC Davis Health to join the campaign to vaccinate medically disadvantaged adults in Sacramento and Yolo counties. This most recent clinic was established after Cristo approached Rey Hendry Ton, the vice chancellor of UC Davis Health for health equality, diversity and inclusion, about organizing a clinic for students.

Director Kate Coulouras

Being able to walk out of the classroom and into the MP room gives our families a level of comfort that may not feel comfortable going to other places in the city.Director Kate Coulouras

Providing care in a convenient location

“It’s great to have the opportunity to go to high school to provide health care and reduce barriers so they don’t have to come to the clinic to get their injection,” said Eric Crossen, an associate professor of pediatrics at the UC Davis School of Medicine.

In addition to working behind the scenes to prepare Pfizer doses for syringes, Crossen also spent time gently encouraging a student, who was terrified of needles, to get the vaccine.

In addition, he took on the role of mentoring volunteers such as first-year medical student Alexandra Inslee.

Videovideo iconCristo Rey High School student Jacqueline Castañeda receives COVID-19 vaccine from medical student Alexandra Inslee.

“I love helping the community and I think this is a great opportunity — especially in the midst of this COVID pandemic — to get more vaccines to people who need them,” Inslee said. “As a medical student, it’s a great training opportunity and I can work directly with people instead of studying with the books all day.”

Cristo Rey is nestled between an industrial and residential area along Jackson Road, just south of Highway 50. The school has 325 students, most of whom are Latino. Director Coulouras said the vast majority of students qualify for free meals at a discounted price, a federal measure of household income that may indicate a lack of access to health care.

The location is part of a zip code that is “undervaccinated” according to the Sacramento County Department of Public Health.

Offering vaccines in the community is something that volunteers look forward to.

“These clinics are the best hours of my week,” said A. Elise Bryant, office manager for School of Medicine Dean Allison Brashear. “I forget all my other worries,” she added, “and I’m so happy to be able to move the needle on Sacramento’s vaccination coverage.”

Students and their parents appreciated the convenient location.

“It’s good that the school is doing this,” says Miriam Casteñeda, the mother of 10e grader Jacqueline Castañeda. She noted that the clinic where her family receives healthcare has a long wait for COVID-19 vaccinations. “This is very useful,” she said.