Breaking barriers: Mobile vaccination unit tries to reach underserved populations in York County

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

The state's first mobile vaccination unit visited York County on Monday morning, the first of more than 120 stops in its vaccine tour across Pennsylvania.

Health professionals distributed doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in the York County Food Bank parking lot through a partnership between the York County Food Bank, Penn State Health, Highmark Blue Shield and Latino Connection’s mobile unit, CATE.

Dr. Sarah Ramirez, a clinician with Penn State Health, addresses a crowd on Monday, May 3, 2021. Ramirez is working at the mobile vaccination clinic at the York County Food Bank. Tina Locurto photo.

CATE, short for "Community-Accessible Testing & Education," made its first appearance last fall as part of a mobile COVID-19 testing tour.

The unit is once again ready to assist individuals, specifically underrepresented populations that have a harder time accessing these resources, said Dr. Sarah Ramirez, a clinician with Penn State Health.

"Today is not just about health or even science, it's about a focus on community and commitment to breaking down any barriers that prevent access to essential care," Ramirez said. "I work with these communities, and I can tell you the barriers to adequate health care still exist."

Staff members at the mobile vaccination site can speak Spanish and provide information to those with questions or concerns.

By 11 a.m., about 15 people had shown up to receive their vaccines. This didn't alarm Ramirez, who said she hopes to build the trust of community members through answering questions and education.

Even something as simple as an individual showing up to ask questions and return at a later date for a vaccine is a win to her.

Dr. Sarah Ramirez, a clinician with Penn State Health, addresses a crowd on Monday, May 3, 2021. Ramirez is working at the mobile vaccination clinic at the York County Food Bank. Tina Locurto photo.

"It's our hope that by bringing these resources to the communities that need it so much, that they will see that we're willing to stand in the rain in a parking lot and wait for you to come to us," Ramirez said. 

CATE's vaccination unit operated at the food bank, located at 1094 Haines Road, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and will return on June 7 so vaccinated individuals can receive their second dose.

Jennifer Brillhart, the CEO of the York County Food Bank, said since the start of the pandemic, her team has adapted to serving a community that has come to rely on the food bank's services.

On Monday, the food bank's typical services changed to give people a chance to get vaccinated. 

Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are distributed on Monday, May 3, 2021 at the York County Food Bank. The York County Food Bank is the first stop for Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 Mobile Response Unit. Tina Locurto photo.

"Our hope today is that having our food bank serve as the distribution site and the presence of our team, a familiar and reliable resource, we will be able to help make the vaccine experience as easy as possible for recipients," Brillhart said.

The CATE mobile vaccine unit will return to York County from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on May 8 at CASA, located at 225 E. Princess St. 

Two days later, the tour will stop in Gettysburg from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on May 10 at South Central Community Action, located at 153 N. Stratton St.

Individuals can either register by visiting https://catemobileunit.com/ or via walk-up the day the vaccine is being administered.

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.