Lubbock, Texas and Citibus Mobilize to Vaccinate Minority Communities
When the COVID-19 vaccine rollout began, Lubbock, Texas had one of the highest vaccination rates in the state and country. This was due in part to the City of Lubbock Health Department (CLHD) working with its mayor to distribute large, steady amounts of vaccines early in the rollout. In April 2021, they vaccinated an average of 3,000 people a day (or almost 500 people an hour) at the city’s vaccination hub, the Lubbock Memorial Civic Center.
As the spring progressed, vaccination rates in Lubbock started to dwindle and the CLHD needed to increase vaccine demand, including targeting key populations where vaccination rates were low, primarily in Black and Latino communities. CLHD developed and executed strategies to effectively reach these communities, including using trusted messengers, conducting direct outreach, and providing convenient access to vaccines.
“With only 250,000 people in our city, we know where to find the people who don’t have access to care and who don’t traditionally seek care. We went straight into those neighborhoods, and knew we’d have to do extra outreach there,” said Katherine Wells, Director of Public Health at CLHD.
A key part of CLHD’s strategy was leveraging a close, existing partnership with Citibus, a public transportation provider for the city. Community members ride Citibuses daily, making them a familiar and trusted environment. In the beginning, Citibus provided community members with free transportation to CLHD’s COVID-19 testing centers and the vaccine clinic hub at the Lubbock Memorial Civic Center. The next step was to bring vaccines to Black and Latino communities. For this effort, CLHD turned the Citibuses into mobile vaccination clinics, recruiting nurses to administer vaccines and gathering necessary vaccination supplies and refrigeration to transport and store vaccines, using funds from a National Association of County and City Health Officials grant.
The CLHD and Citibus mobile vaccination clinics attended existing local events, where they offered COVID-19 vaccines and information to event goers. Events included a local school board festival, back-to-school events, a Juneteenth celebration, art fairs, a Fall Fiesta celebration, and local church events.
CLHD also used the Citibuses to advertise COVID-19 vaccination—wrapping the buses with promotional messages and images of Black and Latino community leaders sharing their reasons for getting vaccinated. A masked Raider Red (Lubbock-based Texas Tech University’s mascot) holding an “I Got the COVID-19 Vaccine” paddle was on one of the bus wraps to increase awareness among college students.
Many people chose to get vaccinated when visiting the Citibus mobile vaccination clinic. Others asked community health workers stationed outside the bus questions about the vaccines and the benefits of getting vaccinated. CLHD Spanish-speaking staff wore “Hablo Español” (“I Speak Spanish”) pins to encourage community members to visit the mobile vaccination clinic and talk to them for more information about the vaccines.
Wells said, “Sometimes people decided to get vaccinated then and there, but we realized for some people, it would take a few times of interacting with and talking to them before they would decide to get vaccinated. We’re out there to share COVID-19 vaccine information and help people make an informed decision.”
Throughout the early summer months, the Citibus mobile vaccination clinics vaccinated 25 to 50 people at each event. As COVID-19 rates started to increase across the nation due to the Delta variant, demand increased, jumping to hundreds of people getting vaccinated at many events. As of August 2021, CLHD has used the Citibus at 29 events and administered 1,400 vaccines.
“It’s been a switch—people who were on the fence are now seeing the Delta variant take hold and seem to have an extra sense of urgency to get vaccinated, especially younger people. We have some 20-year-olds on ventilators in our hospitals right now, and that’s scaring people, and they’re seeking the vaccine again,” said Wells.
Using social media to share the Citibus mobile vaccination clinic’s schedule was key to outreach efforts. However, CLHD staff noted that it would have been beneficial to create a social media account dedicated solely to the mobile vaccination clinic. They would have used it to provide real-time updates on the bus’s whereabouts, along with its schedule. They also highlighted the importance of understanding logistical regulations and barriers, such as needed supplies to store and transport vaccines, and limited staffing availability for this type of work during a pandemic.
“It’s about talking to the community, building trust, and reaching people where they are. If we get one person vaccinated, that’s one less person we have to worry about,” said Wells.