Centers close to vulnerable populations will get priority.By Dr. Maria Simbra

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – COVID-19 vaccines will be going directly to community health centers.

“Pittsburgh is a city of many neighborhoods, and the cultures are unique in each one of the neighborhoods,” says Dan Palka, Administrative Director of AHN Homeless and Poverty Medicine. “These community health centers understand the needs of the populations where they’re situated. They’re physically in the community and they’ve become a community resource.”

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Centers close to vulnerable populations, such as the homeless and people with limited English skills, will get priority.

“These community health centers have relationships with the people that live there. And that is the most critical piece, especially when we see all this mistrust around the vaccine, and with systems and institutions,” says Palka.

The federal government will send vials to 250 centers nationwide, and eventually, to 1,300.

Rising to the challenges of the past year has prepared them for getting shots into arms.

“Most of what we’ve done with testing we can repurpose to roll out the vaccines to these communities,” Palka says.

But it will take some planning when people might not have transportation or a computer.

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“What is your availability? Can you make it to a site? Or do we have to find a way to bring these vaccines out into the community, maintaining rigid cold chain management, and if so, what does that look like?” Palka says these are the questions the staff at the federally-qualified health centers will have to explore.

Transiency is a concern.

“We may not see them again,” he admits. “We are very well-aware sometimes that second dose is not going to be possible.”

Even with all the unique considerations, having vaccines in community health centers is welcome news.

“Calls daily, where do I access this, where do I get it?” Palka says, “It has been a challenge.”

The federal government plans to ship a million doses to these centers starting next week.

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These are the FQHCs in Pittsburgh:

  • East Liberty Family Health Center – East Liberty
  • Northside Christian Health Center – Northside
  • Alma Illery – PCHS – Homewood
  • Matilda H. Theiss Health Center – Hill District
  • Squirrel Hill Health Center – Squirrel Hill
  • Pittsburgh Mercy Family Health Center – Southside