To boost COVID-19 vaccine access, UPMC opens Hill District clinic
A permanent COVID-19 vaccination site opened in Pittsburgh’s majority-Black Hill District on Monday.
The “Shot of Hope” clinic, located in the same plaza as the old Shop’n Save grocery store, is a joint venture between UPMC and the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh. The Hill District’s Central Baptist Church also frequently hosts vaccine clinics, but the UPMC-run site will have more regular hours, including some evening appointments.
The clinic has the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. People can make appointments or simply walk in. They are also encouraged to ask questions if they’re not yet sure about getting vaccinated.
Dr. Tracy Conti, chair of the department of family medicine at UPMC, said the clinic was established to address disparities in vaccination rates and access among underserved populations.
Allegheny County’s health department reports that 45% of Black residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, which is significantly lower than the 62% of white and 59% of Asian-Pacific Islander residents.
The clinic will remain until a UPMC primary care practice opens across the plaza on a yet-to-be-determined date.
“It is easier for patients to identify a single place to come for [COVID-19] vaccines,” said Conti. “We want to eventually integrate vaccines into all primary care providers.”
Because patients have established relationships with their primary care clinics, they’re more likely to trust medical advice from these providers.
The clinic’s location makes the COVID-19 vaccine more accessible to some low-income residents, as the clinic sits near the border of the Middle Hill and Crawford-Roberts neighborhoods, both are part of the Hill District. According to Allegheny County, 52% of Middle Hill families and 33% of Crawford-Roberts families are below the federal poverty level.
Another benefit is the accessibility to public transportation, and that those driving won’t have to pay for parking.
Even though the vaccine clinic officially opened Monday, infectious disease pharmacist Rachel Marini says that more than 100 shots — comprising first, second and booster doses — have been administered since the soft opening on Dec. 20.
“Our first three patients were between the ages of 5 and 11 … which is really exciting, and it was their first doses,” said Marini, who added the three kids were not siblings.
The younger the person the less likely they are to be vaccinated. In Allegheny County, 27% of 5- to 9-year-olds and 52% of those between 10 and 19 are fully vaccinated.
Racial disparities are also present among the vaccination rates of kids. The county health department says that 30% of white and 34% of Asian-Pacific Islander kids who are between 5 and 9 are fully vaccinated, the same can be said of just 7% of Black children in this age group.
Partly due to the low vaccination rates, more kids are getting hospitalized with COVID-19. UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh recently opened a second COVID-19 intensive care unit due to surging numbers.
While vaccine hesitancy plays a role, Marini says access is also an issue. For example, when kids are in school for most of the day and parents are at work, it can be difficult to find time to get to a vaccine clinic.
“So having the ability, especially on a winter break for kids, was definitely a big win that we heard from a lot of the families that came to get vaccinated.”