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St. Louis-Area Seniors Need Transportation To Vaccination Sites

Kayla Drake
St. Louis Public Radio
Ollie Stewart, director of Southside Wellness Center, organized a vaccination event with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and Affinia Healthcare to administer 300 shots on Jan. 23. Stewart used buses to bring in more than 100 seniors from senior centers around the city.

Ollie Stewart knows firsthand the difficulties seniors have to go through to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

The 88-year-old director of Southside Wellness Center in south St. Louis has used buses to take senior citizens from independent living centers and apartments to places where they can get vaccine.

“If we want to do a preventive thing, we’ve got to make sure that we’ve met every corner of the city with the disabled and the elderly to make sure they know about the shots and that it is offered to them,” Stewart said.

Doctors, advocates for the elderly and health officials say bringing people to places where they can get the vaccine could help many vulnerable people, especially the elderly. With vaccination efforts ramping up across the St. Louis region, doctors and advocates for the elderly say it’s important to help those who don’t have cars or access to transportation get the vaccine.

Stewart has accepted the challenge. She worked with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and Affinia Healthcare last month to help distribute 300 vaccine doses to seniors at the Beloved Community United Methodist Church in south St. Louis.

She’s also distributed flyers in senior and retirement facilities to help spread the word about the vaccine and her center’s buses.

At a meeting Tuesday, members of the Board of Aldermen asked city health officials how they planned to ensure people without transportation could receive a vaccine.

“We need to make sure that there’s not only equitable distribution of the vaccine, but also equitable access,” said Dr. Fred Echols, St. Louis public health director. “Making sure that individuals across the city of St. Louis have the same opportunity to receive the vaccine.”

Echols also said the Federal Emergency Management Agency would set up mobile vaccination centers to reach out to people who are homebound.

Some doctors say sending mobile clinics to neighborhoods to distribute the vaccine to those who can’t get to vaccination sites could be effective. Setting up vaccination centers along public transit routes also could help, said Dr. Rachel Charney, disaster medical preparedness director at St. Louis University School of Medicine.

Similar centers have been used by SSM Health for influenza vaccinations. Charney said using bus routes and establishing pedestrian routes to those centers could be key to vaccinating large numbers of people. She said officials also should ask community organizations to keep people informed.

“Where do people already get their information, and how do we leverage those sources to both allow for opportunities to apply for vaccinations as well as to send out the information people need to make an educated decision for themselves?” Charney said.

Alderwoman Sharon Tyus, a Democrat who represents the city’s 1st Ward, said she’s mailing paper versions of the city’s online pre-registration forms to nearly 1,500 seniors in her community. Many seniors in her community do not have access to the internet, she said.

“I’m prepared to mail out using my own stamps, because this is too important,” Tyus said.

She’s networking with community organizers, including pastors and Get Out The Vote volunteers, to provide her residents with transportation to vaccination sites. Part of her ward includes the 63115 ZIP code, one of the first hotspots for the coronavirus in the St. Louis region.

“I will call whoever I need to,” Tyus said. “Those are not really limiting things. If you just put your mind to it.”

Follow Chad on Twitter: @iamcdavis

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Kayla is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.
Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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