By Bebhinn Gilbert and Staci Sahoo, Hopelink, for Public Health Insider, the official blog of Seattle — King County Public Health:
Vaccination appointments are in high demand again as families seek COVID-19 vaccination for their children and eligibility broadens for booster shots. But how can you take advantage of this critically important protection if you can’t get to a vaccination appointment? When you aren’t sure how you’ll get there, an appointment that is one neighborhood away may as well be across the county.
When making plans to get vaccinated, everyone has to think about how they can make it happen: How will this fit into my schedule? Can I afford this trip? Does someone have time to give me a ride? Sometimes these questions don’t have simple answers, especially for older adults, people with disabilities, people with limited English, and those who don’t have their own vehicles or who don’t have flexible work schedules.
VACCINE TRANSPORTATION HELPLINE
The King County COVID-19 Vaccine Mobility Task Force has been working to remove obstacles to vaccination. They established a one-stop-shop Coordinated Vaccine Transportation Helpline to help people find transportation to vaccination sites. Hopelink’s Mobility Management staff operate the Helpline and connect people to flexible options that meet their needs, saving people from having to call separate service providers to find a ride. Many transportation options are free and can accommodate people with disabilities.
Anyone in King County can use the Helpline by calling 1-425-943-6706, Monday through Friday, 8:30 AM until 4:30 PM, or fill out the Vaccine Transportation Helpline Form. Rides may be available day of, but please call as soon as you get a vaccination appointment, particularly if you need a ride on a weekend.
Recently, one group of riders needed a service that could transport their group together and was accessible for deaf riders. The Helpline staff confirmed a ride the same day that the call was made and rescheduled when their plans changed. Other callers have asked for door-to-door service, a driver who can wait with them while they are at their appointment, or even help planning the most straightforward public transportation route. Helpline staff knows that one size does not fit all when it comes to transportation, and they are committed to finding the best fit for every caller.
A COLLABORATIVE APPROACH TO PROBLEM-SOLVING
As the COVID-19 vaccine began to roll out this year, it was clear that transportation was a barrier. Many of the populations most in need of the vaccine were unable to safely and reliably get to their vaccine appointment. In January 2021, the King County COVID-19 Vaccine Mobility Task Force, comprised of stakeholders from the transportation sector and representatives from Public Health – Seattle & King County, convened to begin work to ensure that transportation was not a barrier to vaccine access.
Before the Task Force, transportation providers and service agencies trying to figure out vaccine transportation issues within their own silos. Without a coordinated effort, community members would be left to find vaccine appointments, accessible locations, and a ride to and from their appointment on their own and from several sources. The Task Force streamlined information and organized options for the community more intentionally to connect people to the care they wanted.
The work completed by this group and the partnerships built has created positive outcomes for community members and policymakers alike. The Vaccine Transportation Memo, authored by Task Force partners in March 2021, highlighted several needs early on, including accessible vaccination locations for community members to walk, bike, or roll their way to vaccination.
THE KING COUNTY COVID-19 MOBILITY TASK FORCE PARTNERS
Thank you to the organizations who joined the Task Force or supported transportation access to the vaccine. Led by Hopelink, additional partners included Volunteer Services of Catholic Community Services of Western Washington, the cities of Kirkland and Seattle, King County Metro, Sound Transit, Seattle/King County Aging and Disability Services, SHAG, Sound Generations, MV Transit, Northshore Senior Center, Snoqualmie Valley Transportation, and Seattle/King County Public Health. Additional funding to support this work was provided by the Washington State Department of Transportation, Aging and Disability Services’ Community Living Connections, All in WA’s Vaccine Equity Initiative, as well as ride credits from Lyft and Uber.
For more information and transportation options during COVID, visit the Find A Ride COVID-19 Resources page.