Local nonprofit MIRA Bus breaking down barriers to accessing COVID-19 vaccine for roughly 3,000 residents
The traveling public health resource center named Best Small Nonprofit of the Year by Vail Valley Partnership
The MIRA bus, an RV that delivers public health resources to underserved communities, will soon hold its 20th COVID-19 vaccine clinic for a total of about 3,000 local residents vaccinated — the culmination of an effort to remove barriers to accessing the shot for local populations hit hardest by the virus.
In one of the most dire moments for public health in modern history, the MIRA bus filled the gap of preventative health care, offered free COVID-19 testing and appointment-free vaccinations and, perhaps most importantly, served as a trusted source of information in a time of extreme confusion and fear.
These feats led MIRA to be named Best Small Nonprofit of the Year by Vail Valley Partnership, the executive director of MIRA’s parent organization, Eagle Valley Community Foundation, said Monday.
“We are so proud to be recognized,” Melina Valsecia said in a written statement. “That means we are doing a great job and impacting those affected the most in this pandemic.”
When the COVID-19 vaccine became available to more Eagle County residents this winter, the Mobile Intercultural Resource Alliance (MIRA) immediately began to level the playing field for the valley’s Spanish-speaking communities, MIRA program supervisor Virginia Lecea said.
“The challenge with Hispanics getting vaccinated was the difficulty in accessing it,” Lecea said in an interview Friday. “Right off the bat, I feel like there was a disparity there with the vaccine offering. And so we were there for that reason, to inform, to educate.”
Across the country, the vaccine brought stories of people driving miles and miles to be immunized or refreshing webpages 16 times to schedule appointments in a ritual reminiscent of booking especially sought-after concert tickets. Signing up for vaccines on the different multiple registration sites was also difficult for some non-English speakers.
“There’s a lot of overwhelming information for anyone that speaks English, can you imagine for someone that doesn’t?” She said.
MIRA and its partners registered residents, answered questions and sent representatives to Vail Health vaccine clinics to help with translation, Lecea said.
By March, they were able to bring vaccines directly into underserved communities, she said. For the vast majority of clinics, no appointments were required.
The MIRA Bus is a joint project between Eagle County Public Health, Vail Health and Eagle Valley Community Foundation. The RV travels into communities throughout the Eagle River Valley and Roaring Fork Valley to offer resources, referrals and services related to public health and wellness.
Vaccine doses, and the medical professionals who administered them, were provided by Vail Health and Eagle County Public Health, she said. The bus also partnered with Voces Unidas de las Montañas, a nonprofit in Glenwood Springs, and Basalt-based MidValley Family Practice to host a few clinics.
One of the community vaccinators that boarded the MIRA bus to administer the shots was Sonja Hanson Fauchet, a physician assistant with Vail Health.
“COVID, unfortunately, is still raging in pockets of Eagle County [and] Garfield County,” Hanson Fauchet said. “It’s still very disproportionately affecting the LatinX, Hispanic community. And so I think we have a long way to go to try to get everybody vaccinated in that population, but I think the MIRA bus is just a huge bridge to that.”
Providing vaccines on a traveling RV came with plenty of challenges, Hanson Fauchet said.
The vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna must be kept at ultra-low temperatures and, once thawed, must be used within a limited period of time, she said. The team had to be precise in estimating the number of people they would likely serve in each community and could only offer a limited number of doses at each clinic.
So far, MIRA and its partners have administered approximately 4,200 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, fully immunizing about 3,000 local residents, Lecea said. They provided vaccines produced by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.
Most of the Hispanic residents Lecea worked with were not particularly hesitant to get the vaccine, but some people did have questions, she said.
“There was this misconception that Hispanics were not too keen on getting vaccinated and I think that was proved wrong when we started our clinics,” she said. “Overall, what we’ve heard (from residents) was great things.”
The bus will hold one final clinic on Thursday, May 20, but will continue to offer vaccinations on a rolling basis after this date, Lecea said. The May 20 clinic will take place in El Jebel from noon to 5 p.m. and will provide second doses to residents that received a first dose from the bus last month.
Eagle County residents can sign up to be vaccinated on the county’s COVID-19 page at http://www.eaglecountycovid.org.
The bus and its partners played one other crucial role in the very beginning stages of the pandemic — they provided screenings and other preventative health care services in a time when health clinics and doctors offices were closed, Lecea said.
This summer, Lecea said she and her team are looking forward to shifting their focus back to preventative health care full-time to fulfill their mission to address the social determinants of health in pursuit of health equity.
One piece of this will be offering free diabetes and heart health screenings to local residents. Hanson Fauchet, who works in cardiology and population health at Vail Health, will provide the screenings.
Heart disease is one of the main causes of hospitalization and death in the United States accounting for one in every four deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Hanson Fauchet, or another Vail Health nurse, will be on the bus every Monday and Tuesday all summer long offering screenings, Lecea said. MIRA’s hours will be extended to run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on these days and no insurance is required to access these services.
Also in the world of preventative health, the bus will host Howard Head Sports Medicine to offer a 12-week health improvement program to local residents this summer, Lecea said. The program will be offered in both English and Spanish and can be done virtually if desired.
Vail Health will also board the bus to offer free consultations on Medicaid eligibility and enrollment, Hanson Fauchet said.
- For more information about the programs and services offered on the MIRA bus, call 970-688-0001 or email resourcebusMIRA@gmail.com.
- The bus’ weekly schedule and other information can also be found on their website at eaglevalleycf.org/wellness.
- If anybody would like to get vaccinated, they can schedule an appointment to http://www.eaglecountycovid.org.
- To sign up to volunteer with MIRA or other opportunities with the Eagle Valley Community Foundation, visit eaglevalleycf.org/get-involved.
The goal of MIRA — Mobile Intercultural Resource Alliance — is to bring resources and services to people. MIRA aims to serve as a single-stop, comprehensive, integrated and culturally relevant approach to resource connection and service delivery where people are.
MIRA will travel to neighborhoods, community sites and workplaces throughout Eagle County. Resources and services available on MIRA will change based on community needs and priorities. Examples of resources that will be available include basic health education and screenings, support in applying to public assistance programs, food resources, workforce development, and coordination with early childhood and physical activity programming, to name a few. The resources and services will be provided by a wide variety of local community organizations.
Email Kelli Duncan at email@example.com