This piece is part of COVID-19 in 2020: A look back on health equity & community resilience in Chinatown-International District. The project was led by Seattle photo-journalist Karen Ducey and former ICHS marketing and communications manager Angela Toda in partnership with International Examiner. The project was funded by Historic South Downtown, King County 4Culture, and Society of Professional Journalists.
Dubbed ‘Vax Day’ by public officials and media outlets, April 15 marked the day that all Washingtonians over 16 became eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. The day became a major goal post in Washington state’s vaccine rollout.
As part of ongoing efforts to expand vaccine access in underserved communities, on April 23, International Community Health Services (ICHS) opened its fourth and newest vaccination site at its Bellevue clinic. Taking place in the recently remodeled south wing of the clinic, this site allows ICHS for the first time to offer vaccinations on a large scale on the Eastside.
ICHS has been delivering COVID-19 doses at its vaccination sites in the Chinatown-International District, Holly Park and Shoreline, and community pop-up vaccine clinics.
ICHS has mostly been offering the Moderna vaccine, and until recently, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, said Rachel Koh, chief operating officer with ICHS. Both vaccines are approved for people ages 18 and up. With eligibility now open to anyone 16 years and older, ICHS chose the Bellevue clinic to begin offering the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which is approved for people ages 16 and up.
To date ICHS has vaccinated over 25,000 people against COVID-19, both ICHS patients and community members who made appointments online.
So far, 52 percent of ICHS patients over the age of 50 have been vaccinated. “That’s a pretty successful number for us,” Koh said. In order to reach younger patients, including the patient population at ICHS’ school-based health center at Seattle World School, Pfizer-BioNTech was the only option.
“Looking forward, we’ll continue to deliver the vaccines to marginalized populations,” said Koh, including people of color, immigrants and refugees, and people who speak English as a second language. “That will continue to be our main focus.”
“Peace of mind”
Vishnu Sadhana received his COVID-19 vaccine at ICHS’ Bellevue Clinic on April 23. It was “a no brainer” to get vaccinated, said the young father.
While initially, the emergency authorization and the new MRNA technology in the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine made him curious about the vaccine development, Vishnu never felt anxious about getting vaccinated when it would be his turn. He shared that his sister-in-law, a physician, received her vaccine early during the state’s vaccine rollout.
Now that it was his turn to be vaccinated, it was “peace of mind“ that he would not spread COVID-19, especially to his young daughter. “It’s a responsibility,” Vishnu said, “to not be the unconscious carrier and put people at risk.”
The day before ICHS opened its Bellevue vaccine site, Gov. Jay Inslee declared Washington was experiencing a fourth wave of COVID-19 cases. Case numbers and hospitalizations are rising, particularly among younger people. Dr. Asqual Getaneh, ICHS chief medical officer, shared that the uptick in cases is caused by both the increased spread of the more contagious COVID-19 variants in our region and behavior.
As a community health center serving many BIPOC immigrant and refugee communities, it’s particularly important that ICHS’ young patients get vaccinated, said Getaneh, because immigrant families tend to be multigenerational and are working in high-risk congregate settings.
With vaccine availability increasing significantly, ICHS’ Bellevue Clinic is one of the many new community sites ensuring the vaccine is distributed as quickly and as equitably as possible. She implored everyone to get the vaccine as soon as possible. “The faster that we reach herd immunity,” said Getaneh, “the better for our community and state to control COVID-19.”