Dragons Unite to Bring Vaccines, Resources to the Surrounding West Philadelphia Community
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Sheena Coleman, 40, wasn’t necessarily planning to receive her first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine on May 27.
She wanted to get vaccinated eventually, and knew of the free weekly clinics being hosted for the community at Drexel University’s Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships from 1–4 p.m. starting that day. But Coleman’s priority was her 20-year-old son who lives with her in her Powelton Village home along with her 12-year-old daughter. He had previously contracted COVID-19, and she remembers the fear and the work it took to keep the virus from spreading throughout her household. Quarantining her son in his room in the basement and her daughter in her room two floors up. Cooking him every meal and delivering it to him downstairs while covered head to toe in PPE.
Coleman told her son to come to the clinic and get his first shot of the Pfizer vaccine, but with work and family responsibilities, she wasn’t planning to stop by for herself.
“Then he called me and he was like, ‘Mom, there’s not a line or anything and I’m done already.’ So I’m like, ‘Oh, alright, well I should just go head over there.’” Coleman said. “If they weren’t doing it here, I probably wouldn’t have gotten it done.”
It’s people like Coleman and her family that the Drexel faculty, staff, students and community volunteers who’ve come together to put on these clinics aim to serve — as well as provide the ease that helped bring Coleman through the door as well, not just her son.
Planned weekly for each Thursday through at least the end of June, the clinics are being operated in partnership with Sunray Pharmacy, and welcome walk-ins and do not require an appointment. Vaccination is free and available for ages 12 and up.
With an atmosphere that felt more like a block party than a clinic, music played and balloons swayed in the breeze at this first clinic as those who had heard about the clinic received the Pfizer vaccine. Representatives from University resource groups such as the College of Nursing and Health Professions’ Community Wellness HUB and the West Philadelphia Promise Neighborhood run through the Office of University and Community Partnerships were on hand to answer questions and promote other health and wellness initiatives.
Seth Kolb had not heard of the May 27 clinic, but rather, he saw it. The 23-year-old lives across the street from the Dornsife Center, and when he saw the clinic was in full swing that day, he decided to walk over and get vaccinated.
“[I] just got back from the gym and I saw it and I was like, ‘I’m just going to go do it, it’s right there. There’s no excuse not to,’” Kolb said.
Annette Gadegbeku, MD, a professor in the Department of Family, Community & Preventive Medicine and assistant dean of community health in the College of Medicine, spearheaded the creation of the clinics as well as the free COVID-19 testing that has been offered at the Dornsife Center since March. She said that this matter of proximity helps build trust within the community and showcases the University’s desire to help improve community health.
“We are here to partner, to serve, to support, and to just be with [our neighboring community] and provide what they need. We want to bring it to them,” Gadegbeku said. “It’s often we rely on people in communities to go to places, but if we can be in closer proximity and bring it and provide the services to them that’s really important in helping to build community.”
Patrice Simmons, a community health worker for the Community Wellness HUB who focuses on COVID-19 education in the community, said it’s very positive that Drexel has brought resources like testing and vaccination to the West Philadelphia Promise Zone, which might otherwise be overlooked.
“There’s not many resources available for residents to come out and get tested for COVID or to receive the COVID-19 vaccine,” she said. “Drexel, they have the means to be able to serve the community. They have the resources. They have the people able to help the West Philadelphia residents. So, this is a very good thing that Drexel is doing and we just really want the community to come out and engage.”
The Dragons on hand to make sure everything ran smoothly included several Drexel students in health care-related fields who volunteered their time. Erica Riddick, a first-year medical student, said she was happy for the chance to help the community after feeling stressed and helpless by the effects of the pandemic.
“I’m really thankful to be a part of an institution that emphasizes the importance of engaging the surrounding community, especially with Philadelphia having a lot of underserved areas that have been disproportionately affected by COVID,” Riddick said. “There’s a lot that I’m able to do here and be helpful.”
Ted Corbin, MD, MPP, a professor of emergency medicine and associate dean of community & external affairs for the College of Medicine, said it’s natural and appropriate for Drexel students to be eager and willing to share their time and expertise to support the health of the community.
“The other piece I think is very real is the fact that the pandemic has shown the health disparity that we’ve been well aware of for a long time, but in a lot of ways we as a nation have been somewhat complacent in going beyond the doors of hospitals, of clinics, and expecting folks to come to us when in fact there are many barriers for people to get to those places that are rooted in the social determinants of health,” Corbin said. “So really addressing those things by bringing [vaccines] to the community makes a world of difference. I know Dr. Gadegbeku has been invested in this for a long time, and we really are advocating to do this work so that we can at least level the playing field to some degree.”
“It’s just important to meet people where they are and also to teach students how to do that so they can be more sensitive, aware and open to the different ways of addressing health needs and providing service in their careers, and that they can be better future health care providers,” Gadegbeku added. “… The only way you can really do that is by working, serving, partnering with the community that you serve at large. So it’s really important to bring students into this work that we do.”