As Vaccine Numbers Dwindle, Officials Turn to Neighborhood Businesses and Barbers For Help
Earlier this year, mass COVID-19 vaccination events in Columbia served thousands of people at locations like Memorial Stadium and Columbia Mall. But as those numbers dwindled and delta variant cases began to surge, health officials changed their focus to vaccination outreach clinics in the community.
A Cut Above the Rest is a salon and barbershop that serves both men and women. As you enter, you’re immersed in the sounds of trimmers, music, and conversations.
But on July 17th, there was a new offering on the list of services. And you had to wonder – are people there for a shave or a shot?
Lamyia Burgett, a nurse from MU Health, is at the barbershop to help give out COVID-19 vaccinations.
One of her first patients for the day stepped forward, as she asked “Alright, Gustavo, so you’re getting your first dose, is that correct?”
Gustavo Mosso is here to receive the Pfizer vaccine, and said he was persuaded to visit this pop-up outreach clinic by his sister, who’s worried about the increasing number of COVID infections in the Columbia community and throughout the state.
“There was like a whole fuss about the vaccine. I wasn't really noticing. I didn't care too much about news because people were saying crazy things,” Mosso said. “But now that everything is more calm, I can get a more clear view of how things really are. That's why I'm getting it now.”
Debra Harris owns A Cut Above the Rest with her husband, Al, and said hosting the vaccine clinic at their salon was born from a recent conversation she had with one of her clients, a University of Missouri medical resident.
“We were talking about just ongoing things to do, like prostate checks, diabetes checks, and just the overall health of our community,” Harris said. “[and] since we have a lot of people that come to the salons, that was a great place to start with the COVID vaccination.
"This is where information is passed through. People come here often, and so we find out the latest information.”
Which is where Labea Butler comes in. She’s an operations manager for COVID outreach from MU Health, and she’s helping with Columbia’s newest vaccine outreach program – bringing the COVID-19 vaccine to people in the places they frequent.
She said these outreach clinics come down to one major thing – access.
“Because we do have community members that lack resources,” Butler said. “So, we are setting up events and community locations where there are low vaccination rates and low resources.”
Butler added that it’s important for these events to take place in areas where people can get questions answered or just talk with community leaders they already know and trust.
Like the salon, which has been around for 20 years and serves many Black Columbians.
Harris said the salon is more than just a place to get a haircut, it’s also a social gathering.
“This is where information is passed through, and not just my salon/barbershop, but all other beauty professionals,” Harris said. “People come here often and so we find out the latest information.”
According to the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services, Black Missourians are getting vaccinated at a lower rate, so both Harris and Butler agree these outreach clinics are an important step in getting folks protected against COVID-19 – especially the more infectious delta variant.
After more than four hours, Butler and her team start gathering up their supplies, including buttons, stickers and vaccination card holders, and head out.
Butler said overall they gave 17 shots: three Johnson & Johnson and 14 Pfizer.
Nurse Lamyia Burgett made sure to remind each person getting the vaccine – including Gustavo Mosso – to return in a few weeks for their second dose.
That’s because a health team will return to the salon later this week on August 7. Butler said that, in the future, they’re hoping to bring more than just vaccines.
“Because Debra and Al are really adamant about making sure that the community is healthy, not just for COVID vaccines, but also as far as diabetes, high blood pressure and some other comorbidities that our community members may not take too seriously or just may need more information about,” Butler said.