By Mary Kate Brogan
When asked why she was getting the COVID-19 vaccine, Christine Ruderson’s answer was simple: “To save lives.” For Ruderson, getting vaccinated at the VCU Health Hub at 25th took her one step closer to keeping herself, her loved ones and the community safer.
Ruderson was among the first community members in Phase 1b to be vaccinated by VCU Health, stopping in for her shot before heading to work at the Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
“On a personal level, I plan to live to the ripe old age of 125,” Ruderson said, “And I would not succeed if I did not take all the opportunities and resources available to me. The vaccine is a resource available. I’d like to live a long time to see what is invented by then.”
Ruderson’s hopes for future inventions include better access to health care, housing and food. And improving access to health care is a key mission of the Health Hub, where Ruderson got her first dose of vaccine.
Volunteers at the VCU Health Hub at 25th administered the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to 100 community members, including seniors and front-line workers from Richmond’s East End, during a pilot vaccination event in January.
“Being able to have a vaccine clinic here at the Health Hub allows for us to push forward in what we were built to do,” said Natalie Pennywell, director of VCU Health Hub at 25th. Providing community members with access to what they need to improve their health, and providing it in an accessible location, is central to the Health Hub’s mission, Pennywell said.
The Health Hub is not only a distribution point for the vaccine but serves as a safe space where people “can ask questions and engage in conversations about what the vaccine means not only for them as an individual but for their families and for their community as a whole,” Pennywell said.
A positive experience
As student and faculty volunteers from the Richmond Health and Wellness Program at VCU readied vials of vaccine and prepared to check in the other 99 community members scheduled for vaccination that day, Ruderson reflected on her experience.
“It feels great to have the privilege of being vaccinated,” Ruderson said, “and it is wonderful that VCU has this program.”
When asked what advice she has for others, Ruderson was direct. “Taking 15 to 20 minutes to go to the vaccine site to become protected is a lot better than making funeral arrangements.”
Protecting friends and family
Volunteers from VCU Health and the Richmond Health and Wellness Program at VCU, including graduate nursing students — several of them already practicing nurses — as well as graduate pharmacy students and faculty, eagerly helped with the vaccinations.
The Richmond Health and Wellness Program has strong ties to the Health Hub. Many of its volunteers worked with community members before the pandemic. In addition to providing shots at the community event, the program offered resources to improve social connectedness among older adults and collaborated with VCU Health’s medical-legal partnership to provide free legal advice for eligible patients.
Among the volunteers vaccinating community members was Dr. Kimberly Battle, Ph.D., a clinical assistant professor at VCU School of Nursing. It was a special day for Battle, who had the opportunity to give the vaccine to her father, Phillip Battle.
After getting his shot, Phillip Battle said he was looking forward to the protection it will afford him and the people he most wants to protect: his fraternity brothers, the other members of his senior citizens group, members of his church and his friends and family.
The senior Battle said he and his daughter often watch the news together, wearing masks, at his home. He credits the news and his daughter with educating him on the importance of the vaccine in protecting the community.
“I’m going to live a longer, safer life because of this vaccine,” he said.
About 20 feet away, Norman Gold, developer of the Market at 25th, got his shot.
“It’s important for me to protect myself and my wife, and it’s important for me to show my trust in the vaccine to the community,” Gold said. “This vaccine is the only way out of the pandemic toward a return to near-normal life.”
‘The more avenues, the better’
Dr. Shantelle Brown, Pharm.D., is the owner and operator of Hope Pharmacy, one of the first Black female-owned pharmacies in Richmond. It’s located next to the Health Hub and the Market@25th. Brown got her shot before heading off to work.Brown got the shot because she’s a front-line worker, but equally important, she said, she wants to share what it was like with the residents she serves every day behind the counter.
“Within the African American community, there is a lot of skepticism, there is a lot of apprehension,” said Brown, referring to vaccines in general. “What I wanted to do — because I do believe in the vaccine, I’ve studied it and how it works and I don’t have those same apprehensions or any skepticism about them — is I wanted to take the vaccine, let people see my actual journey through the vaccine … so that when they have questions, they can come to me, they can call me.
“It’s easy to see people who look like them possibly on TV getting it, but someone who they have access to every day — I want them to come to me and ask me whatever they want, knowing that they’re going to get the full honest truth.”
Brown underscored the importance of creating opportunities to educate the community about the vaccines and improve access. This includes listening to people reluctant to get it and providing the vaccine in convenient locations for those lacking transportation. While some people are hesitant, Brown said she’s heard from others eager to get vaccinated.
“We have to make sure, if they want it, they can get it no matter what, no matter where,” Brown said. “When they’ve made up in their mind that they want to get the vaccine, we need to be able to have it to provide it for them. So I think the more avenues, the better.”
As more options for vaccination become available, the Health Hub will continue to offer an avenue for vaccinations in the East End, Pennywell said. Providing vaccines “truly allows for us to anchor in the mission of the university and the health system in and of itself by providing what really is important to our community neighbors.”