Adult Vaccination Program: Boosting the Health of Low-Income Adults

AFC Staff Medical Assistant, Liz Rosales, immunizes a patient as part of the Arlington Free Clinic’s adult vaccination program.

Fortunately, a lot of attention is paid to ensuring that babies and children get their vaccines. Unfortunately, the same isn’t always true for adults. And without vaccinations, adults are at risk for serious and costly health problems such as hepatitis, tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, pneumococcal disease, and shingles.

For the 10,729 low-income, uninsured adults under age 65 in Arlington, who often lack access to health care, getting vaccinated may be even more challenging. That’s why the Arlington Free Clinic (AFC), a NVHF grantee, set up a special program to make sure its registered patients get the vaccines they need.

When AFC started the program, it quickly discovered that many patients had never been immunized. Or if they had, they didn’t remember when or for what. In some cases, staff members had to track down patients’ previous medical records before any vaccines were given.

“A lot of our patients are caregivers who take care of babies and older people. Others work in the food industry or as house cleaners where they may come in contact with many other people during a single week. Families often share houses and apartments, so it’s easy for people to transmit illness under these conditions. We want to prevent that as much as possible and help keep them healthy,” said Sheila Ryan, RN, Director of Clinical Services at AFC.

Initially AFC’s program only offered influenza vaccines on a periodic basis. As it expanded, the program scheduled one vaccination session a month for each of the following vaccines: influenza, Pneumovax (for pneumonia), hepatitis B, Tdap (for tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis), and zoster (for shingles). AFC continues to offer monthly vaccination sessions, but it now gives influenza vaccinations daily. Staff medical assistants and volunteer nurses also spend a lot of time educating patients about the importance of vaccinations.

Since 2010, the AFC program has successfully administered over 6,122 vaccinations and expects to give more than 700 flu shots this season. Vaccination coverage for AFC patients exceeds national percentages:

Vaccine AFC Nationally (CDC)
Hepatitis B
    Adults 19-59 36% 28.6%
    Adults 60+ 42% 15.1%
Pneumovax 64% 59.9%
Zoster (Adults 60+) 45% 20.1%
Tdap 38% 14.2%
Influenza 46% 42.2%

“By vaccinating adults for influenza or other illnesses, we’re preventing them from getting sick, but we’re also preventing them from being carriers for disease. If you get everyone vaccinated, you also protect their families, those around them, and members of the community,” said Ms. Ryan.