As McKinney Fire Chief Danny Kistner puts it, the McKinney Fire Department felt like it had a little more to give.
The department had stepped up to the plate to roll out COVID-19 vaccines as a hub, joining other local governments who had begun distributing vaccines. As the McKinney Fire Department went into the “vaccine business” Kistner said, it became apparent that not everybody would be able to make it out to the hub.
The department’s focus shifted to finding ways to reach underserved populations, particularly within Black and Hispanic neighborhoods and the city’s homeless population, a McKinney press release stated. Those efforts stretched beyond the operations of the department’s vaccine hub, which closed in April.
“We wanted to make sure that as many people as we could reach that wanted a vaccination got a vaccination,” Kistner said.
Not everyone had a vehicle or the kind of devices needed to figure out how to get an appointment, McKinney EMS Chief Charlie Skaggs said, so the department reached out to different churches and key players who could reach those groups and relay the information they needed.
Enter Pastor Louis Rosenthal, leader of The McKinney First Baptist Church.
Rosenthal served as a liaison for a coalition of predominantly African American churches in east McKinney who could all get information about the vaccine opportunity out to their congregations. He started sharing the information with his congregation, giving reminders at the end of worship sessions. The church’s Facebook page featured a flyer advertising the opportunity. The pastors of the other churches were invited to do the same, and Rosenthal’s church facilitated a signup sheet to be sent to the McKinney Fire Department.
“What this did was allow the communities that were greatest at risk to be able to have some of the vaccine earmarked for those populations that were greater at risk due to underlying health conditions,” Rosenthal said.
But it didn’t stop there.
The department also brought doses on site to the church for what Rosenthal called a “vaccine day.”
“That wasn’t something that we just originally decided to do when we first got the vaccine because it had to be so secure and temperature sensitive and that kind of stuff,” Skaggs said. “But when we finally learned more about it as we gave thousands of vaccines, we realized we could do it mobily.”
For Rosenthal, the impact of the partnership between the church and the department goes beyond those numbers. It also raised a general awareness of the vaccine.
“I think our efforts really helped significantly, in the east McKinney community particularly, in raising awareness, educating and getting people vaccinated.”
For Rosenthal, the partnership is just one stepping stone for a greater involvement that the faith community can have with city departments.
“The faith community is trying to encourage our congregation to get involved in the city, to get involved with city government, with our police, fire, EMS and all of our departments so that we are able to be at the vanguard of problem-solving and creating policy, procedures, before they are problems so that we don't have to always be in reactionary mode,” he said.
Rosenthal said part of the effort’s success came from local leaders like him speaking up to say that they were vaccinated.
“I'm confident that that helped encourage more people to get vaccinated, and it especially helped with those who were kind of leery of whether or not they should take the shot or not,” he said.
The department also reached out to those experiencing homelessness in the city. Partnering with the McKinney Police Department, who has a specific group that works with those experiencing homelessness in the city, McKinney Fire personnel got in contact with members of the homeless population, picked them up and vaccinated them at the department’s hub. After that, Skaggs said, they set a location and time to meet again so that they could get a second dose.
“We did most of them at the hub, but they went back to their camp and told everybody ‘It’s all good, it’s OK, I survived. Nothing bad happened to me,’” Skaggs said. “Because that’s what a lot of people think when they get the vaccine, and then in turn they brought another group of them over there and we did them as well.”
The department held its final outreach clinic on Wednesday and vaccinated 1,300 people who fall in the underserved population using its special outreach model, a city press release stated.