A week after receiving her first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, 81-year-old Gail Smith helped a longtime friend in need shoot her at the senior citizen center in her East Las Vegas community.
“The flu shot was much worse,” said her friend Carmen Mathis, 80, with a laugh afterwards.
Mathis, who is legally blind and uses a cane, lives just two blocks from Parkdale Recreation and Senior Center, where a Southern Nevada Health District clinic dispensed about 250 doses on Friday.
She had tried unsuccessfully to get an appointment with local pharmacies participating in the vaccination effort for residents aged 70 and over before Smith discovered and registered an application for the senior citizen center.
Access to the serum is especially important in this community. The 89121 zip code was the sixth toughest in the Las Vegas Valley in terms of coronavirus cases on Wednesday, reporting nearly 6,900, according to the Southern Nevada Health District.
The senior citizen center is located in a historically underserved working class area in Clark County with no legal personality that is of strong Spanish descent and has been particularly hard hit by the virus.
To target the socio-economically disadvantaged community, the local health authorities first used the centre’s membership roster to fill appointments at the “pop-up” immunization clinic, rather than promoting the wider community.
Mathis said she didn’t mind if others came to take pictures once the community was served.
“I’m all fine as long as the people who live here get it first,” she said.
Clark County’s approach, in partnership with the Seniors Center and Health District, represents an effort to get the vaccine to those who may otherwise be squeezed out, either because they lack transportation or the stamina for long drives or queues, or because people are out of wealth Areas make use of the local deadlines.
An estimated 70 percent of Friday’s vaccinated came from either the immediate area or east Las Vegas in general, while the remainder was made up of people from other parts of the valley filling vacancies, according to Alex Bernal, program director for the retirement home district.
The valley’s hardest-hit zip code in terms of coronavirus cases, 89110, is also located in east Las Vegas, a few miles north of where vaccinations were held on Friday.
“We’re trying to make sure these vaccines are distributed across the valley so everyone can take part,” said County Commissioner Tick Segerblom, whose district the senior center is a part of. “I am committed to ensuring that East Las Vegas is not forgotten.”
A similar pop-up clinic distributed vaccination doses to older adults at Mack Middle School in Las Vegas.
As part of the pledge, Segerblom said local officials will realign the Hispanic outreach campaign, “Está en Tus Manos” (“It’s in Your Hands”), created in support of COVID-19 tests to raise awareness hone for the need for vaccinations.
Thirty nonprofits, mostly focused in the Eastern Valley, will be working to connect with Spanish speakers and possibly help them sign up and even get to a location, he said.
Miguel Magana (72) said in front of the senior center on Friday that the Moderna shot was painless. His daughter, Beatriz Rubio (38), who translated for him, remarked beforehand that he was “a little nervous”.
“You know some people, they keep saying that they get sick or that they are sick after they get the vaccine,” she said.
But Rubio had asked her father to get vaccinated for her and his grandson.
Bernal said people simply need to be educated and motivated and that if the head of the family is willing to get vaccinated, it could encourage others, including friends, to shop too.
Currently, the vaccine is only available to people age 70 and over, and anyone who received shots on Friday has scheduled their second dose in a month, Bernal said.
There have been no senior programs at the center since the March pandemic. Friday’s vaccinations were the first time Bernal had seen members in a while.
He also remembered the “slap in the face” when he heard that some seniors had passed away when the center called to make appointments.
Ultimately, the seniors are grateful for their first doses. In particular, he remembered one woman who had been put on a waiting list because appointments had been booked. When someone canceled, he called her to let her know there was an open seat and she screamed.
“It put chills in my arms,” he said. “As if she had won the lottery. For them this could be a lottery for life. “
Contact Shea Johnson at [email protected] or 702-383-0272. Follow @Shea_LVRJ on Twitter.