With schools opening in the fall for in-person learning, Michelle Lee and her sister, Irene Lee, thought it would be good to get their teenagers vaccinated to protect them against COVID-19.
So they headed to the H Mart grocery store in the Adams Run Plaza Shopping Center in Philadelphia’s Olney section Saturday.
“Since we’re going back to school, our moms thought it would be better to get vaccinated and be prepared so we can be safe,” said David Zeng, 14, a ninth grader and Michelle Lee’s son.
His cousin, Emily Chew, 16, Irene Lee’s daughter, who is heading into her junior year after the summer, admitted: “At first, I was scared. But it didn’t hurt.”
Michelle Lee said she found out about the free, walk-up vaccination clinic through H Mart’s “WeChat!” social media announcement.
The vaccination pop-up was a collaboration among the Philadelphia Office of Immigrant Affairs (OIA), Philly Counts, and the Jaisohn Medical Center to bring vaccines to immigrant communities.
Romana Lee-Akiyama, deputy director of the OIA, said that in addition to helping more people get protected against COVID-19, the pop-up clinic was scheduled for Saturday because June is Immigrant Heritage Month.
She said the OIA worked with Philly Counts, which started as an outreach program to increase participation in the 2020 Census, to find neighborhoods where a clinic could have the most impact. Staffers from the Jaisohn Medical Center registered people for the vaccines and administered the shots.
“We wanted to meet people where they were,” Lee-Akiyama said. “So people who would be coming here to shop at the H Mart could also walk over and get a vaccine.”
The clinic ran from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and by the end, 45 people had been vaccinated.
A medical staffer from Jaisohn said they administered 35 Pfizer vaccines and 10 Johnson & Johnson shots.
OIA staffers stood out in front of the grocery store asking people if they had been vaccinated and then directed those who hadn’t to a vacant store in the center a few steps away, where shots were given.
Interpreters were on hand to help translate for people who spoke various languages, including Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, and Portuguese.
But the vaccines were available for everyone who came to the shopping center Saturday, not only those whose family backgrounds included immigrant community members.
Belinda Patterson, 51, who is Black, came to get her vaccine because her mother, Shirley Patterson, 71, told her to.
Although her mother had gotten her second Pfizer shot last month, Belinda Patterson said she had taken her time getting vaccinated because she has always hated needles.
She let out a small scream when she got the one-dose J&J shot.
“I couldn’t do it twice,” Belinda Patterson said. Only the J&J and the two-shot Pfizer vaccines were offered at the H Mart clinic Saturday.
Andrew, 32, who didn’t want to give his last name, said he had come to the shopping center to pay his cellphone bill and saw all the people lined up outside a vacant store and wondered what was going on. When he heard, he decided to get his vaccine on the spot.
Andrew said he had spent months researching the different vaccines and the side effects associated with them and decided, after talking with the medical staffers on site, to go with J&J.
After his shot, he proudly wore an “I am vaccinated” sticker on his shirt. But before the employee of a window and door manufacturer left, he asked a nurse for a second sticker “so I can have a fresh one to wear to work on Monday.”
He said he is in training to be a supervisor at his job and he thought by wearing a sticker that showed he was vaccinated, it would set a good example.
About 11:30 Saturday morning, during a shift change at the H Mart, which opened in September 2020 during the height of the pandemic, several store employees walked over to get their shots.
Oscar Humberto Velasquez said he wanted to get the vaccine because he is concerned about the variants of the coronavirus that have caused an uptick in cases around the world.
Pedro Pablo Garcia, 41, who works as a stocker at the grocery store, said in Spanish, through an interpreter, that most H Mart employees were already vaccinated.
He cited two reasons for deciding to join them on Saturday: “It’s free and it’s necessary that we all get it.”