U of U Wellness Bus is now giving COVID-19 vaccines

The University of Utah (U of U) Health’s Wellness Bus is now supplying COVID-19 vaccines for underserved communities around Salt Lake County in partnership with Community Nursing Services (CNS), a local nursing group.

 

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The bus was originally a health screening and education unit serving the Salt Lake Valley area to screen for chronic diseases like diabetes and prediabetes. The purpose was to refer those who had diabetes to a low-cost provider closest to them.

Robin Marcus, PhD, professor and associate dean for clinical affairs at U of U College of Health said:

“It was very important to us that once we’ve identified that someone had diabetes and they didn’t know about that, we could then refer them to a low or no-cost alternative medical clinic.”

However, in April of 2020, it turned into a mobile testing site for primarily essential workers in the hardest hit areas of Utah. The bus was reworked to enable testing and eliminate barriers to testing. According to Marcus, over 60% of the primary Spanish-speaking clientele they served were uninsured. To help combat the language barrier, the bus is run by a staff of multilingual dietitians and community health workers.

“We didn’t want to be idle. By the very nature of the staff and the people we are working with, we all knew we wanted to do something.”

It first started on a walk-in only basis. However, the increased popularity and demand for testing overwhelmed the bus. They soon started making appointments, while also allowing some walk-ins. 

The bus delayed starting vaccinations until about a week ago due to the challenge of vaccine storage, distribution and other logistics. However, a partnership with CNS allowed registered nurses (RNs) to facilitate the vaccinations and provide the vaccines for the bus. 

According to Marcus, the bus hopes to vaccinate between 100 and 150 people a day, but they have yet to see those numbers. Marcus thinks that this is either due to people getting vaccinated elsewhere or vaccine hesitancy. 

“We don’t know if we’re not filling up our vaccination clinic because of access, hesitancy or some other reason that we just don’t know. We are going to stay out the month of May, get the word out and see if we can meet the need.”

The bus was initially funded by the Larry H. & Gail Miller Family Foundation for staffing and supply. Recently, the University of Utah Health system and the Utah legislature have also agreed to support the bus financially. Marcus said:

“It sends a clear message from our health system and the state of Utah that we need to pay attention to access and the health care of our uninsured and underserved communities.”

The bus will continue to provide vaccinations throughout the month of May to underserved communities around the Salt Lake valley. Marcus said:

“The reason we have been able to do this is our wonderful staff who spend a lot of time in the community and getting to know people.”