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COVID vaccines come to the underserved in east Las Vegas

Updated January 29, 2021 - 7:42 pm

A week after receiving her first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, 81-year-old Gail Smith helped a longtime friend in need get her shot at the senior center in their east Las Vegas community.

“The flu shot was a lot worse,” her friend Carmen Mathis, 80, said afterward with a laugh.

Mathis, who is legally blind and uses a cane, lives only two houses down from the Parkdale Recreation and Senior Center, where a Southern Nevada Health District clinic dispensed about 250 doses Friday.

She had been trying unsuccessfully to get an appointment through local pharmacies participating in the vaccination effort for residents 70 and older before Smith spotted a sign-up for the senior center and got her registered.

Accessibility to the serum is key, especially in this community. The 89121 ZIP code was the sixth hardest struck in the Las Vegas Valley in terms of coronavirus cases as of Wednesday, reporting nearly 6,900, according to the Southern Nevada Health District.

The senior center is in a historically underserved working-class area in unincorporated Clark County that is heavily Hispanic, a population that has been hit particularly hard by the virus.

To target the socioeconomically disadvantaged community, local public health officials used the center’s membership roster first to fill appointments at the “pop-up” immunization clinic, rather than advertising to the broader community.

Mathis said she didn’t mind others coming to get shots once the community was served.

“Everyone is fine with me, as long as the people who live here get it first,” she said.

Underserved a priority

The approach by Clark County, in partnership with the senior center and the health district, represents an effort to get the vaccine to those who otherwise might be squeezed out, either because they lack the transportation or stamina for long drives or lines or because people from well-off areas scoop up the local appointments.

An estimated 70 percent of the immunized Friday were either from the immediate area or east Las Vegas in general, while the remainder consisted of people from the other parts of the valley who filled vacant slots, according to Alex Bernal, a county program supervisor for the senior center.

The hardest-struck ZIP code in the valley in terms of coronavirus cases, 89110, is also in east Las Vegas, a few miles north of where vaccinations occurred Friday.

“We’re trying to make sure these vaccines are spread around the valley so everyone can participate,” said county Commissioner Tick Segerblom, whose district includes the senior center. “I’m committed to making sure east Las Vegas is not forgotten.”

A similar pop-up clinic distributed vaccine doses to older adults at Mack Middle School in Las Vegas.

Hispanic outreach

As part of the pledge, Segerblom said local officials will refocus the Hispanic outreach campaign, “Está en Tus Manos” (“It’s In Your Hands”) — created to assist with COVID-19 testing — to raise awareness of the need for vaccinations.

Thirty nonprofits primarily focused on the east valley will work on connecting with Spanish speakers and potentially aid them in signing up and even getting to a site, he said.

Outside the senior center Friday, Miguel Magana, 72, said the Moderna shot was painless. His daughter, Beatriz Rubio, 38, who translated for him, noted that he “was kind of nervous” beforehand.

“You know some people, they keep saying that they be getting sick or they’re sick after they receive the vaccine,” she said.

But Rubio had urged her father to get vaccinated for her and his grandson.

Bernal said that people simply needed to be educated and motivated, and that if the head of a family is willing to be immunized it could encourage others including friends to buy in as well.

Seniors grateful

Presently the vaccine is available only to people 70 and older, and everyone who received shots Friday has had the second dose scheduled one month from now, Bernal said.

Since the pandemic struck in March, there has been no senior programming at the center, so Friday’s vaccinations marked the first time Bernal had seen members in a while.

He also recalled the “gut punch” of hearing that some seniors had passed away as the center was making phone calls to schedule appointments.

Ultimately, he said, the seniors were grateful for their first doses. He remembered one woman, in particular, who had been put on a waiting list because appointments were booked. When someone canceled, he called to let her know there was an open slot and she screamed.

“It put chills in my arms,” he said. “Like she won the lotto. To them, this might be life lotto.”

Contact Shea Johnson at sjohnson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272. Follow @Shea_LVRJ on Twitter.

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