A line of leashes. Furry friends, tails wagging, and their loving companions waiting to receive a vaccine. It’s not what you likely think of when you read the words, immunization clinic, but at Mesa County Public Health, innovative ideas are fueling action. This month, Mesa County Public Health (MCPH) hosted a hepatitis A clinic at Whitman Park, a collaborative and proactive approach translated to major success in protecting a vulnerable population from a serious illness.
Colorado is in the midst of a hepatitis A outbreak. The outbreak is affecting people experiencing homelessness, people with substance abuse issues, and people who are incarcerated in city and county jails. Since October of 2018, 173 cases have been identified across the state, 126 people have been hospitalized, and one person, a Denver resident, died this month.
The September clinic is far from the first off-site clinic MCPH has hosted. Nurses regularly provide vaccine services where it is convenient for the public so that transportation is not a barrier. This clinic, though, was different both in innovation and collaboration. We worked with Mesa County Animal Services to include animal vaccinations, members of the Homeless Coalition helped with outreach, to connect with those in need, Grand Junction Police provided a community resource officer, our Public Health Nurses provided on-the-spot education about the illness and administered the vaccine, and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment helped provide additional educational materials. “These cross-sector partnerships are truly what makes an impact. Mesa County Public Health serves in the convener role, bringing different groups to the same table to tackle issues,” Mesa County Public Health Executive Director, Jeff Kuhr says. “It’s making a difference. Instead of competing, we’re collaborating.“ This clinic is just one example of the collaborative approach MCPH uses to inspire action and change in our community.
A Proactive Approach
The Hepatitis A outbreak has been on the minds of public health officials for some time. When cases from the current Colorado outbreak started appearing in late 2018, Mesa County Public Health began preparing. It was more than just ordering supplies, and listening to briefings, “We intentionally looked for innovative ways to prevent an outbreak from occurring” Kuhr explains. Hepatitis A is a highly contagious virus that infects the liver. It is easily prevented with a safe, effective vaccine, however, getting information and opportunity to those most at risk for this virus can be challenging. People most commonly affected by this type of outbreak may have less access to preventive health care, poorer nutrition, crowded living conditions, and greater health risks. In an effort to minimize some of those obstacles, Mesa County Public Health, in conjunction with yet another partner, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, was able to get the vaccine specifically for the homeless population. Because of this partnership, those experiencing homelessness in Grand Junction who wanted to be protected were able to get the hepatitis A vaccine for free. Dozens were vaccinated on-site at Whitman park on that September day. Statewide, it’s estimated more than 8,000 people have received the vaccine since the outbreak first began. The Mesa County Public Health Clinic provides vaccines of all types, and serves all patients, regardless of their ability to pay.
Action isn’t always easy. One secret to success can be finding something people are passionate about and making it relatable to your cause. People are passionate about animals, “Sometimes, we put the health and safety of those we care about above ourselves,” says Kuhr. Pets need vaccines, too so MCPH partnered with Mesa County Animal Services who worked with a volunteer veterinarian to provide rabies, distemper, and canine parvovirus vaccines to animal owners at the hepatitis A clinic. The line for animal vaccines formed first and stayed busy the entire time (even through a downpour of rain). The opportunity to interact with pet owners, who saw value in a vaccine for their animals, opened up the conversation about a vaccine to protect people, too.
Working together for a Healthy Community, it’s what Mesa County Public Health is all about.