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By Carol Parker
  • Cornell Cooperative Extension
  • Health + Nutrition
Community partnerships work! In the spring of 2021, Cornell University Cooperative Extension – New York City (CUCE-NYC) has been connecting the Community Healthcare Network with the community engagement team at Weill Cornell Medicine's Clinical and Translational Sciences Center (CTSC) so that medical students could volunteer with community-based vaccination clinics.

The idea initially came about during a CTSC community engagement staff meeting when  CUCE-NYC Executive Director Jennifer Tiffany learned that 70 Cornell medical students were trained and certified to administer COVID-19 vaccinations, but had nowhere to do so since the students were only available on evenings and weekends.

One of CUCE-NYC’s main program offices is located within the Tree of Life Center in Jamaica, Queens. Seeing an opportunity, Tiffany contacted Tree of Life Center partners Rev. Patrick O’Connor, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica, and Bob Hayes, executive director of the Community Healthcare Network which operates federally qualified health centers serving neighborhoods throughout New York City and has been working tirelessly to administer vaccines and ensure equitable access. The offer of a cadre of medical students able to administer vaccines couldn’t have happened at a better moment.

The next Saturday morning, the students and CTSC staff supporting them were on-site in the Jamaica, Queens church setting up a vaccine clinic that, within five hours, would administer all of their 176 allocated doses. According to Jeff Zhu, CTSC’s managing director of community engagement and research, “it was a resounding success,” - a sentiment shared by Rev. O’Connor.

The success of the day was attributed to the strong existing organizational partnerships, the community context and Cornell Cooperative Extension’s ability to make quick connections between organizations with shared interests.

The partnership was then able to coordinate another weekend clinic at Queens Legal Defenders, and on Saturday, March 20, St. David’s Episcopal Church in South East Queens welcomed the Community Healthcare Network/Cornell team to a clinic where 191 community residents received their COVID-19 vaccinations. Having spent the day at the clinic, I can attest that it was another example of the university and community organizations connecting to reach community members “where they are.”

I also assisted with outreach on Saturday, March 27, when the partnership returned to First Presbyterian Church and the Tree of Life Center in Jamaica, administering 180-second doses and 206 first doses.

Saturday, April 3, St. David’s Episcopal Church stepped up to host a clinic where 386 people received vaccinations. I was deeply moved by the care and warmth shown to community members by Community Healthcare Network’s multi-cultural clinical professionals. St. David’s will host another clinic on April 17 and First Presbyterian Church will offer vaccinations on April 23. Our close collaborator Freddy Molano, Community Healthcare Network’s Vice President for ID/LGBT Programs and a lead organizer for the pop-up clinics, the “weekend vaccination events are really good and energizing.”

In settings where vaccine hesitancy affects people's trust, working with faith-based organizations is a proven strategy to help overcome barriers.

In settings where vaccine hesitancy affects people's trust, working with faith-based organizations is a proven strategy to help overcome barriers. As described by Lorna Moodie-Jones, the contact person at St. David's Episcopal Church, who helped organize the first March 20 clinic as well as the April clinics, “The day went smoothly as the volunteers and the Community Health Services Team worked seamlessly. People mentioned how efficiently the process was and felt so grateful to be vaccinated in their own neighborhood. We were able to deliver 191 doses of the Moderna and Johnson and Johnson vaccinations and we are still receiving calls from the community to see if there will be another opportunity to get vaccinated at our church. We also have a waiting list.” 

Her words capture many people's voices from the field sharing words of appreciation and seeking continued collaboration.

As of April 5, more than 1,000 people have obtained vaccinations at these community-based pop-up clinics.

As of April 5, more than 1,000 people have obtained vaccinations at these community-based pop-up clinics. The partnership grows and deepens, sustained by CUCE-NYC’s dedication to community engagement, the caring professional staff of the Community Healthcare Network, students and mentors from medical and nursing schools around the city, and especially the commitment and agility of dedicated community-based and faith-based organizations working to secure COVID-19 vaccinations for their members.

The model has already been scaled up: Building on the success of the pop-up sites,  a new network of community-based sites staffed by the partnership in collaboration with FEMA opened on March 31 to provide steady community-centered access to COVID-19 vaccinations through August.  

Carol Parker is an Extension Associate with Cornell University Cooperative Extension – New York City.

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