How at-home vaccinations protect the lives of the state’s most vulnerable

Brooke Ibraham feels fortunate that her grandparents, Harold Brown, 92, and Darlene Brown, 87, haven’t been ill with COVID.

She credits their avoidance of infection to receiving regular COVID vaccinations and boosters.

Harold, who has dementia, is cared for by his wife with the support of family members. Initially, finding a way for the couple to receive vaccinations was difficult because Harold has been homebound for years

When Ibraham called the Muskegon County Health Department, she was surprised to find that there wasn’t a local program to provide COVID vaccinations to homebound residents. But the health department did refer her to Disability Rights Michigan (DRM), which is collaborating with the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services to support vaccinations for homebound residents.

Finding a solution

Working with DRM, she has been able to schedule appointments by text message. Every time a new booster came out, she texted DRM asking to set up an appointment for her grandparents. The in-home vaccinations have been crucial because Harold can't get in and out of a vehicle. 

"It would be quite an ordeal if we had to bring him somewhere," Ibraham says. "My grandfather probably just wouldn't have access because it would have been too difficult to get him anywhere. He just doesn't have the strength to get in and out of a vehicle, and nobody else has the strength to get him in and out of a vehicle."

Harold Brown, 92, and Darlene Brown, 87, have received their COVID vaccines at home.
Between family members and professional caregivers coming and going from the house, the Browns likely have been exposed to the disease that the Center for Disease Control says has killed more than 1.1 million people.

In spite of everyone’s best effort to keep them as safe as possible, there have been times when family members have visited the Muskegon couple only to test positive for COVID a day or two later.

“Thankfully they haven't had an infection,” says Ibraham. “It's a real big peace of mind because I don’t know how my grandfather would fare. And my grandma has congestive heart failure and lots of autoimmune issues.”

Mobile vaccine clinics

Ibraham’s family situation is similar to hundreds across the state, says Tamela Phillips, a DRM vaccine advocate. DRM was given a state grant to ensure that the residents with disabilities had access to COVID vaccinations. 

“When our grant started, we really had no idea of what direction to move in,” says Phillips. “We started getting phone calls from people who were interested in getting some assistance with getting the vaccines because they were homebound. They had great difficulties, typically because of mobility.”

She discovered that the state had contracts with mobile vaccine clinics, so she contacted them and found that DRM could tap into these resources to provide vaccines to people with disabilities who are homebound. 

For several months, Phillips worked as an intermediary connecting those with disabilities who needed vaccines with mobile vaccine clinics. Then the state ended that service when demand for vaccines ebbed because fewer people were experiencing transportation issues.

“We realized that we needed to take the vaccines to the people and make them accessible,” Phillips said. “And so just as we were getting better at that, the state decided to pause the vaccine clinics.” 

Going where needed

Mark McWilliams, director of advocacy strategies and vaccination advocacy for Disability Rights Michigan, received permission from the state to use part of the nonprofit’s grant to contract with a mobile vaccine clinic.

DRM now contracts with DocGo to provide vaccinations at community events and at residential facilities, such as nursing homes or adult foster care facilities. Often, clinics are paired with visits to people’s apartments. For example, during a clinic held at an apartment building geared to seniors or those with disabilities, nurses go up to the apartments of those unable to come to common spaces for vaccines. 

DocGo's Amanda McMann packs supplies for an in-home COVID vaccination visit.
Amanda McMann, operations supervisor with DocGo, has been with the Muskegon office of the national mobile medical services company for 2 1/2 years. She’s part of the team supporting the DRM effort, which has resulted in 270 homebound vaccinations in 2023, part of an overall total of 2,793 COVID-19 and 1,431 flu shots. Of the 1,636 patients served, 684 self-identified as having a disability, according to DocGo records. 

“Disability Rights Michigan has pretty much been the driving force behind our ability to get out into the communities and provide those services for people who are at home,” McMann says. 

“They get a lot of the referrals for us. It's been a great resource for people who are unable to get out of their homes, once they know that that kind of service is available.”

Most people are “eternally grateful” when McMann’s team shows up to make a house call. 

“I'm just extremely proud to be able to participate in a program helping people in communities across the state, especially people who might be overlooked right now,” McMann says.

Grant expires in September

Ibraham reached out to DRM to make arrangements for her homebound grandparents to get vaccines. 

“When Brooke heard a new COVID booster was coming out, she would text me. I would get her permission, and I would get a referral for her grandparents,” Phillips says.

“The community knows that we can get these vaccines out, so we get contacted either by a caretaker or the person themselves,” Phillips says. “We built this reputation of providing this service to people that just cannot get the vaccine themselves for the last two years.”

The grant for this program expires in September. DRM is working on building a resource for people who will need help after its grant expires.

“A lot of these people have come to depend on us,” Phillips says. “We've built relationships with these community partners. We're just really concerned about what's going to happen to all these people with disabilities who cannot get out once we're done.”

Shandra Martinez is the lead writer for the Disability Inclusion series. She’s also the managing editor of The Lakeshore and Rapid Growth.

Photos of Amanda McMann by Shandra Martinez. Photo of Harold and Darlene Brown is courtesy of their family. 

Disability Inclusion is a series exploring the state of Michigan’s growing disability community. It is made possible through a partnership with Disability Rights Michigan.
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