Surprising nonprofit donates vaccines for free to communities in need

Written by By Ellie Fuchs, CNN

Whether you are a medical professional or not, you have probably heard about vaccine hesitancy. Perhaps you even have a teenager or twenty-something in your own family. For parents of children young enough to be reluctant about receiving vaccinations, getting the word out that the government’s most widely used and recommended vaccine, the measles-mumps-rubella, or MMR, is extremely important is a no-brainer.

But for parents who don’t know about the high-quality medical evidence behind vaccinations, is there any advantage to donating the vaccine directly to a nonprofit? After all, the vaccine isn’t always delivered in an accessible manner — from an opioid overdose, to a homeless home, to homeless shelters. That’s why Vaccinate, a Cincinnati-based nonprofit, donates its vaccines free of charge to locations where children and families who can’t access vaccines are struggling.

However, the nonprofit’s innovative approach comes with a price. Vaccinate partners with local community health centers, where it fills orders for vaccines against 11 diseases: diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, influenza, hepatitis B, bacterial meningitis, pneumococcal disease, measles, mumps, rubella, polio and rubella.

In 2018, Vaccinate delivered over 67,000 doses of vaccine into nearly 180 local community health centers, and also made vaccine distributions on the streets, in shelters, camps, homeless shelters and prisons.

Through the partnership with community health centers, Vaccinate also accesses a significant and growing network of moms, grandmas, and other care givers in the community who ask for the vaccines.

“If there are other providers in the community that are using the vaccine and don’t have a vaccine to vaccinate a child or offer vaccines to a child, we contact them through our website,” Amanda Struck of Vaccinate told CNN. “Then they get it as an item. If they don’t take it in, we don’t charge for it.”

All locations supported by Vaccinate include people who require vaccinations by state or federal law and have an infection and immunization rate low enough to qualify for Medicaid.

Another key goal of Vaccinate is to provide lower-income communities with vaccination. According to the 2018 Community Health Survey (CHS), of the $2.5 trillion spent in the US on health care, hospitals and doctors are spending an estimated $82.4 billion to provide vaccines for low-income patients, a 43% increase over a decade. Vaccinate, aims to work with hospitals and clinics that are committed to getting vaccines to vulnerable populations.

Getting vaccinated, by Vaccinate, makes a huge difference for kids and their communities, said Stacy Viser of Cincinnati Children’s.

“Getting vaccinated is one of the most meaningful things people can do for their health,” she said. “If we’re going to be successful in eradicating diseases, which I believe we will be, if we don’t do it, then measles will remain and that would be a terrible thing for us.”

Vaccinate relies on individual giving to provide vaccines. Last year, over 30,000 people donated blood through the charity.

Vaccinate’s relationship with health clinics, by organization, usually lasts two years, when a parent is diagnosed with a condition that can put their child at risk for vaccine complications, such as a cancer, or an infant, who has intellectual or developmental disability. Vaccinate, typically, works with health clinics for about 10 years. After the sponsorship ends, Vaccinate finds a permanent home for them.

When Vaccinate reached out to a clinic to suggest it donate to save children’s lives, Struck said they were “extremely receptive.” Within months, Vaccinate filled a waiting list.

“This way we’re giving back, to give back to this community, and also we’re still receiving these vaccines,” Struck said.

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