Vaccinating the Tenderloin: The Power of Partnership

Vaccinating the Tenderloin: The Power of Partnership

Back in the spring of 2021, San Franciscans were lining up in droves across the city to get their shot of the highly anticipated COVID-19 vaccine. While the pandemic continued to hit hardest on people of color and those living in poverty, GLIDE’s Tenderloin Resource Hub became ground zero for a unique citywide partnership, with the intent of closing the vaccine equity gap.

When the Vaccine Hub stood up in July of 2021, the Tenderloin lagged behind San Francisco’s overall vaccination rate by 7%. Within months, the numbers told a different story – As of January 2022, 87% of residents in the Tenderloin have received a complete vaccine series (3 doses), surpassing the city’s overall vaccination rate of 82%. A key component to this success was an understanding of the unique needs of TL communities – and from that, the Roving Vax initiative was born.

Hitting the Streets

The idea for roving vax teams grew out of GLIDE’s Tenderloin Vaccine Hub, an outdoor site at 330 Ellis Street, made up of staff from GLIDE, San Francisco’s Department of Public Health (SFDPH), University of California, San Francisco Medical Center (UCSF), the San Francisco Community Health Center (SFCHC), and community partner Code Tenderloin. The first few months of operation at the Hub saw high numbers of people eager to get the vaccine. After the initial rush, though, the demand started to dwindle.

Roving Vax team members ready to walk the Tenderloin streets.
The Roving Vax units are building community trust and providing critical protection against COVID-19.

Despite the decline in turnout, Lillian Mark, GLIDE’s Senior Director of Programs, knew that there were still many vaccine-hesitant residents who were unlikely to travel to Ellis Street. Around the same time, an effort to prevent open vaccine vials from going to waste yielded an unexpected discovery. “The clinical team at SFCHC decided to venture out on their own,” Lillian explains. “So, after the site closed, they went out onto busy TL street corners and visited family restaurants, with the mission of getting those vaccines into arms. And they were incredibly successful.”

Roving Vax Team walking the streets of the TL neighborhood.
Roving Vax Team walking the streets of the TL neighborhood.
Building Trust, Reducing Barriers

What started as impromptu street outreach led to the establishment of the Roving Vax teams. Two sets of roving teams are outfitted with two-way radios, backpacks, iPads, rolling carts carrying vaccines, and incentives like $25 gift cards to facilitate on-the-spot vaccinations throughout the Tenderloin. 

The roving vax initiative has been a resounding success in reaching the Tenderloin community. Since July 2021, the Roving Vax Teams have boosted the immunity of approximately 1,304 individuals in the TL and surrounding neighborhoods. The Roving Vax teams have been able to provide convenience around vaccination to Single Room Occupancy residents and the many people who are sleeping in uninhabitable locations around the TL,” says Nikki Dove, GLIDE’s interim Covid Testing Coordinator.

GLIDE is tremendously proud of the partnerships that make our vaccine initiatives possible. The Roving Vax units are providing an approachable way for those in the Tenderloin community to get their questions and doubts addressed, which builds confidence around the COVID-19 vaccine. Together, we are reducing barriers to vaccine access, building trust and serving the community.