UT School of Nursing launches vaccine programs for underserved Austin communities

Kevin Vu

The School of Nursing launched two vaccination delivery programs in March that provide vaccines to underserved Austin communities. 

The two programs, Vaccine Administration Mobile Operations (VAMOS) and Vaccinate, No Waste (VaxNow), were created by people working in vaccine operations after they realized some Austin communities could not access UT’s mass vaccination hub, said Karen Johnson, associate professor in the School of Nursing.

Individuals who want to get the vaccine through either program can email [email protected] to be on the waitlist. 

“There are communities that won’t be well served by (UT’s vaccination hub),” Johnson said. “The long lines at Gregory Gym — that can be really prohibitive for older adults who have mobility issues and maybe can’t tolerate standing for two hours in line.”

VAMOS is a drive-thru mobile clinic set up at local churches and other sites, such as parking lots, once a week, Johnson said. 

Workers with the VAMOS program collaborated with churches such as Mt. Zion Baptist Church and Rehoboth Baptist Church, both of which partner with the African American Mental Health and Wellness Program (AMEN) in the School of Nursing, said Jacki Hecht, managing director of the program.

“We all came together to see, how can we pool our resources — both human resources but also financial resources — to help accommodate this pretty ambitious program of getting the vaccine out into the community,” Hecht said.

Hecht said individuals who received the first dose through the VAMOS program are encouraged to receive their second dose through Gregory Gym. However, individuals are still able to receive their second dose in their community if they cannot go to campus.

The second program, VaxNow, takes the leftover vaccines from the mass vaccination site at the University and gives them to anyone who is unable to access them, Johnson said. The programs rotate to different sites each week, but doses can also go to homes for homebound people, she said. 

Johnson said the VAMOS program wants to keep the amount of doses administered each week between 250 to 300 doses. The VaxNow program gives out vaccines depending on how many are left each day.

“For us, I don’t really think it’s about the numbers, but about reaching those who need to be reached, that are having trouble getting in another way and are … most vulnerable to COVID-19,” Johnson said.

Angela Robertson-Bigham, VAMOS communication coordinator and member of the Rehoboth Baptist Church, said before the VAMOS program, members of her church were hesitant to take the vaccine due to misinformation.

“A lot of them were scared that they were going to get really sick, a lot of them were scared that the (vaccines) were rushed … they were just confused,” Robertson-Bigham said.

Robertson-Bigham said that after educating hesitant individuals on the vaccine and having some members take the vaccine through the program, VAMOS had vaccinated 75% of the church.

“It took a huge burden off of a lot of people who were scared to see their grandmothers, scared to see their grandbabies they didn’t see, it took a lot of stigma off of being nervous,” Robertson-Bigham said.