Lancaster County's community vaccine center opens Wednesday. Inset: Alice Yoder. (Source: LG Health)
Lancaster County's community vaccine center opens Wednesday. Inset: Alice Yoder. (Source: LG Health)

The coalition behind Lancaster County's Covid-19 community vaccination center has a simple but ambitious goal: Vaccinate everyone who wants it.

That means making the center as accessible as possible for everyone, said Alice Yoder, executive director of community health at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health. It also means having a robust set of additional strategies to reach people for whom, for whatever reason, the center isn't an option.

Registration opened Monday at the vaccination center, housed at the former Bon-Ton store at Park City Center mall. The center is set to open on a limited basis on Wednesday. If vaccine supplies are sufficient, it will soon ramp up to 6,000 doses a day, operating from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week.

The center is the flagship operation of the Vaccinate Lancaster Coalition, which includes Lancaster County government, LG Health, Penn State Health, UPMC, WellSpan Health and the Lancaster City and County Medical Society.

Yoder leads the coalition's Vaccine Access & Equity Committee. As its name implies, its task is to ensure fairness in vaccine distribution, and that no one loses out on being vaccinated due to a lack of transportation, a language barrier, or any other reason.

One United Lancaster recently spoke with Yoder about the committee's work. The following is based on that conversation:

Recognizing the issue

When Covid-19 struck last year, "we recognized the disparities among populations," Yoder said. Nationwide, certain disadvantaged populations, particularly people of color, were more likely to get Covid-19 and more likely to suffer serious complications, hospitalization and death.

So, from the start, the coalition knew vulnerable populations had to be a priority in the vaccination effort, Yoder said.

About the committee

The committee has met weekly since mid-February and has added a couple of people each time, Yoder said. Members represent county government and the coalition's four health systems as well as key nonprofits, social service and advocacy organizations.

Vaccine Access Committee

The work

Here are some of the ways the committee is promoting access and equity at the community vaccination center:

Registration

While online registration may be quick and easy, it's a barrier for people without a computer, Internet access, or the skills needed to navigate an appointment portal. That's why there's a call center as well. It has Spanish-speaking staff, and online registration will be available in Spanish shortly, Yoder said. There are options for additional translation services as well.

There will be bilingual staff at the sign-in desk on site, and technology-based translation capacity for languages other than English and Spanish.

• Transportation

Red Rose Transit Authority is providing free bus service to the site. Its Access paratransit service is offering free transportation to eligible individuals as well, with referrals and scheduling assistance through the county Office of Aging.

Site access and accommodations

The site setup is following Americans With Disabilities Act guidance, and every effort is being made to make it accessible, Yoder said. There is a designated drop-off area at the entrance for those with mobility issues, and a handicapped parking section.

During registration, patients will be able to advise staff of any special needs they may have. Individuals with service dogs are welcome to have them along. There is a privacy area for those uncomfortable baring an arm or shoulder in public, and a quiet area for people who are overstimulated in chaotic environments, such as some individuals on the autism spectrum.

• Extended hours

Initially, the center will offer vaccinations from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week. However, once it brings on more staff, the coalition hopes to offer extended evening hours a couple of days a week, to accommodate individuals who aren't free during the day, Yoder said.

Beyond mass vaccination

The community vaccination center is the quickest way to vaccinate a large number of people, but other initiatives will be needed to achieve equity, Yoder said.

Thus, the committee is planning education and outreach efforts. Lancaster EMS is deploying its staff and resources to inoculate the homebound. The Lancaster County Homeless Coalition, LanCo MyHome, is partnering on outreach to the population it serves, as are several churches.

The committee is reaching out to community leaders and church leaders and arranging pop-up vaccination clinics at community hubs such as Brightside Opportunity Center and San Juan Bautista Catholic Church. Later this year, there are thoughts of going neighborhood by neighborhood in Lancaster city to knock on doors and distribute door hangers.

To reach Lancaster County's large Amish population, committee members are connecting with the Amish Safety Committee and other trusted liaisons. Ads are being placed in Amish publications, and flyers prepared for distribution at mud sales.

As a rule of thumb, 70% is considered the immunization threshold for herd immunity. But that threshold needs to be met, not just for the county as a whole, but within the many subpopulations and clusters of people who interact with each other, Yoder said.

The ultimate goal: Protecting each and every one of Lancaster County's communities.

"We're in this for the long haul," Yoder said.

Tim Stuhldreher