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UMass Chan students to provide flu and COVID-19 shots at Halloween event on Sunday

Medical and nursing students volunteering at Epworth Methodist Free Medical Program in Worcester

UMass Chan Medical School students and city health officials are planning to offer “treats” to families visiting the Epworth Methodist Free Medical Program on Sunday, Oct. 31, in the form of free flu and COVID-19 vaccinations, during a Halloween-themed clinic from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. The free medical program is located at 64 Salisbury St., Worcester, and is open to the public.

Mina Botros

Nine students, including seven from the T.H. Chan School of Medicine and two from the Tan Chingfen Graduate School of Nursing, have been planning the Halloween-themed vaccination event as part of a Medical School clerkship this fall called “Caring for the Uninsured and Under-resourced,” according to second-year medical student Mina Botros. Botros is a co-leader of the clerkship and co-president of the Worcester Free Care Collaborative, a network of six free medical programs in Worcester that works with UMass Chan student volunteers. He co-leads these efforts with fellow Medical School class of 2024 students Tyler Healy and Grant Garcia.

Students will decorate, have costumes and candy, and offer activities such as face painting for children who attend the family-focused clinic.

Flu vaccines will be offered through a grant from the Remillard Family Community Service Fund awarded to Botros in 2020 for work with the free medical programs.

Matilde Castiel, MD, associate professor of medicine and commissioner of health and human services for the City of Worcester, will have all three COVID-19 vaccines available – Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson—for those who are eligible.

“The clerkship, working with faculty advisor James Ledwith, MD, is geared toward engaging students in population and community health in ways that they might otherwise not have the opportunity to see in regular everyday education,” Botros said. Dr. Ledwith is assistant professor of family medicine & community health.

Botros said the free medical programs, some of which have operated for decades, “are a fascinating story about how people just looked around in their communities and realized that something is not going the way that they want it to, and then they made a change.”

The clerkship has introduced students to the free medical programs and given them an opportunity to learn more about the communities they serve and the barriers to medical care that many still face. According to Botros, some who seek care are immigrants without connections to health care providers; some are longtime residents who are uninsured; some are insured but can’t afford co-pays and deductibles in their health plans or can’t conveniently get to their primary care providers’ offices.

“We wanted to make sure that the people in our community are covered as best as we can with proper vaccinations,” said Botros. “We wanted to make sure there aren’t any barriers. I think it’s going to be a great collaboration between the free care programs and the city’s vaccination efforts.”

Another key aspect about breaking down barriers has been getting the word out that flu and COVID-19 vaccines are safe, free and available.

“One of the main projects students are working on now is outreach. You can’t just send emails and text messages or post something on Facebook,” Botros said. “You have to go personally, speak with the community leaders and say you’d like to come to their church to say a few words, or post fliers for neighborhood people.”

Dr. Castiel’s COVID-19 vaccine team will also be providing free shots at the 6th annual Worcester Hill-O-Ween at the summit of Union Hill, 121 Providence St., from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Oct. 31.

Hill-O-Ween was started by Worcester police officer Sean Lovely in 2015, on the grounds of the former St. Vincent Hospital, to provide a safe environment for neighborhood families to go trick-or-treating. Some 5,000 people typically attend, according to Officer Lovely. He purchased around $7,000 in candy and will be assisted by a dozen Worcester police officers and scores of volunteers from Worcester Academy and St. John’s Food for the Poor.

“I reached out to Dr. Castiel because I thought with the extreme diversity within this neighborhood, her services and affiliations could provide outreach for COVID-related services and any other topic that might help out some residents,” Lovely said.

Related stories on UMassMed News:
Mina Botros connects patients to care through Worcester Free Clinics
Ceremony recognizes volunteers as Worcester’s large-scale vaccination site closes its doors