VNA Health Care, Southwest Suburban Immigrant Project team up to vaccinate vulnerable Will County residents

Organizers planned appointments to accommodate working residents, those who don’t speak English

The Southwest Suburban Immigrant Project and VNA Health Care are partnering to host vaccination events to improve access for vulnerable populations in Will County.

Members of the SSIP and other community-based organizations in Will County have pushed for more outreach to residents of color to ensure they receive an equitable chance to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

They’ve pointed to public health data that shows Black and Latino residents are underrepresented among those who already have received a vaccine shot in Will County, compared with their share of the local population.

“Our Black and brown communities have been hit the hardest during the pandemic,” Jose Vera, the executive director of the SSIP, said at a news conference Monday.

“Language barriers, the digital divide and transportation in the suburbs play a big role in why our Black and brown communities have not had access to the vaccine,” Vera said.

To mitigate the disparities, VNA planned three clinics with the SSIP. Vera said they worked to schedule appointments and accommodate residents who could only get their shots during the evenings or weekend and made sure to have bilingual workers administering doses.

Organizers said the clinics will provide about 800 doses of COVID-19 vaccine for area residents.

VNA and SSIP also worked with U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Naperville, and state Rep. Dagmara Avelar, D-Bolingbrook, on the effort.

Avelar argued it was crucial to vaccinate as many people as possible to slow the spread of COVID-19 and to prevent the chances of new variants developing, which could make vaccines less effective.

“The World Health Organization has been clear about this and has also emphasized that we cannot end the pandemic anywhere unless we end it everywhere,” Avelar said.

Linnea Windel, VNA’s president and CEO, said Foster’s and Avelar’s offices spread word of the clinics and helped residents register for appointments. She said its local effort also has support from Romeoville Mayor John Noak, U.S. Rep. Marie Newman, state Sen. John Connor and Joliet Junior College Trustee Nancy Garcia.

Vera said that among residents that the SSIP serves, there “hasn’t been a shortage of people to reach out to” who are interested in receiving a vaccine. He said he hopes VNA’s willingness to collaborate with community-based organizations such as the SSIP can serve as a model for local health departments.

VNA Health Care is the largest federally qualified health center in the Chicago suburbs and operates 16 clinics.

Alex Ortiz

Alex Ortiz is a reporter for The Herald-News in Joliet. Originally from Romeoville, Ill., he joined The Herald-News in 2017 and mostly covers Will County government, politics, education and more. He earned his bachelor's degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a master's degree from Northwestern University.