As many communities across the nation struggle to combat the COVID-19 virus, the Athens Free Clinic – sponsored by the Augusta University/University of Georgia Medical Partnership – has significantly closed the local vaccination gap.
Faculty and students working for the mobile clinic began administering vaccines in partnership with the Department of Public Health in February 2021. Remaining true to its core mission, the mobile clinic has focused on combating COVID-19 in the underserved communities of Athens-Clarke County—communities that may face health care barriers such as lack of insurance or transportation and may otherwise not have means to get a vaccine if not for the clinic.
As of Aug. 17, the mobile clinic has administered 3,700 vaccine shots to local residents.
“Since the medical partnership opened its doors in 2010, our mission has been to engage and serve the communities around us,” said Dr. Shelley Nuss, campus dean of the medical partnership. “When the vaccine became available, we knew we could expand our services to include giving the COVID-19 vaccine.”
Dr. Suzanne Lester, director of the clinic, said volunteers and operators have adopted a motto, “We are still here for you,” to encourage community members to feel comfortable reaching out to clinic staff for assistance. Volunteers also have worked with local agencies to provide holistic responses to those diagnosed with COVID-19 including help coordinating medical care, financial services, meal deliveries, safe quarantine procedures, child care and social support programs.
“The medical partnership’s mobile clinic is providing a vital service to our neighbors across Athens-Clarke County,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. “This is one of many ways the University of Georgia is making a difference locally and across our state.”
The clinic has partnered with multiple agencies and organizations – including DPH, Clarke County School District. Athens-Clarke County government, ACC neighborhood leaders, Foothills Charter High School, Athens Community Council on Aging, Potter’s House, Columbia Brookside and Bethel Village.
“The mobile clinic provides hope, comfort and security to those who have nowhere to turn in such unprecedented times,” said Hamzah Ali, a fourth-year student and co-founder of the mobile clinic. “While hospitals have been flooded with COVID-19 cases, and COVID-19 testing sites were struggling with limited testing kits, the mobile clinic stepped up to perform COVID-19 testing and provide care to the patients most vulnerable to the virus, both medically and financially.”
In addition to community-wide vaccination efforts, the university is offering multiple incentives to encourage campus students and employees to be vaccinated. Faculty, staff and students who get vaccinated at the University Health Center or Tate Center Mobile Clinic may choose to enter a drawing to win a Visa gift card worth $100. Each Friday over a four-week period, 10 individuals will be randomly selected to win.
A total of 40 names will be drawn from Aug. 13 – Sept. 3. In addition, everyone vaccinated will receive a $20 gift card as well as a specially designed UGA T-shirt.
University leaders continue to urge faculty, staff and students who are able and have not done so yet to visit the University Health Center or their local provider to get vaccinated. Vaccinations are available by appointment at the UHC, and walk-ups will be accommodated at a special satellite clinic being offered at the Tate Center from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on Aug. 19, 23-26, 30-31, and Sept. 2.
The University Health Center has administered 24,415 vaccinations as of Aug. 13. To facilitate increased demand prompted by the incentive program, additional appointments have been added.
Based on guidance from the University System of Georgia, UGA cannot require students, faculty or staff to be vaccinated in order to be on campus, but vaccinations are strongly encouraged.