University of Iowa students help uninsured patients access the COVID-19 vaccine

Two UI students have recently joined the Iowa City Free Medical and Dental Clinic, where they will work to make the COVID-19 vaccine more accessible to uninsured Iowans.


Grace Smith

Student, Kyleigh Harm, receives the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at the Iowa Memorial Union at the University of Iowa on Wednesday, April 21, 2021.

Lily Rosen Marvin, News Reporter

For Alondra Herrera, helping others has always been important. So, when she heard the Iowa City Free Medical and Dental Clinic was looking to hire a COVID-19 vaccine clinic coordinator to help with their vaccination effort, Herrera knew she wanted to apply.

“I thought [this position] was right down my alley,” Herrera said. “Community service is something I’ve always been passionate about. I’ve always been a strong advocate for it. Something I’m really into is helping other people, so this position was what I was really looking for after graduation.”

Herrera, a University of Iowa senior, said she’s working with UI senior Helena Fantz — who was also hired as a COVID-19 Clinic Coordinator — to get uninsured patients at the clinic access to the COVID-19 vaccine. The two students are working to contact and educate patients about the vaccine, schedule appointments, and help make sure that the vaccine clinics run smoothly.

She added that the plan is to start slowly, only doing one vial of vaccines per clinic, but the hope is to expand to larger clinics as time goes on.

Free Medical Clinic Executive Director Barbara Vinogrande said the students are part of an important effort at the clinic to reach a patient population that may not have had easy access to the COVID-19 vaccine.

According to the Household Pulse Survey’s COVID-19 Tracker, 51.2 percent of Americans who have health insurance have received a COVID-19 vaccine, but that number drops to 23.7 percent for uninsured Americans.

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“It couldn’t be clearer through the survey that for uninsured and underinsured people, we need to work harder as a community to make vaccines available,” Vinogrande said. “These two young women have backgrounds in public health, and they have just leapt right in. They’re doing a phenomenal job.”

In her short time at the clinic, Frantz said she’s seen the importance of working to better address the needs of uninsured patients. She said she was excited by the chance to help this underserved population access the vaccine.

“Obviously the pandemic has changed a lot for a lot of people,” she said. “So, I think it’s important that the vaccine is available and that people are comfortable getting it, which is something I can help address.”

As she’s helped patients schedule their vaccines, Herrera said she’s heard a mix of excitement and concern about the appointment. She added that she’s looking forward to being a source of comfort and reassurance for patients as they arrive at the vaccine clinics.

“Combatting COVID-19 and trying to get through this pandemic is something that I wanted to be a part of,” Herrera said. “So, I think being at least one person trying to help get things back to normal is something I’m happy about.”

Both Fantz and Herrera said they’re excited to work together over the next year to get vaccines to the Free Medical Clinic’s patients, as well as the surrounding community.

“Helena is great,” Herrera said. “I think this is really going to work so much better as a team than just individually. It’s really nice having somebody else there for support and someone I can trust.”

Fantz added that working with Herrera has been an awesome experience and that their shared interests and values have helped them work well together.

“One of the joys of my job is having the opportunity to work with students such as Helena and Alondra,” Vinogrande said. “Their passion and their energy just give me hope. It’s been a really tough year for all of us and it’s really uplifting to have the opportunity to work with students who want to make a difference and put their hearts into what they’re doing.”

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