Joining Forces to Protect Community Health in Houston

Southern  |  November 20, 2022
In collaboration with Walgreens pharmacy chain, on October 24, 2021, Tzu Chi holds an event to offer free flu shots and COVID-19 vaccination in Houston, Texas. Photo/Sung-Jan Lin

Written by Sung-Jan Lin
Translated by Mark Wan
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska

The COVID-19 pandemic continued in 2021, with infection levels waxing and waning, leading to shifting degrees of reopening across the United States. At the same time, the push for public vaccination persisted, with children aged 12 and above eventually able to receive a vaccine too. 

By Fall, flu prevalence would also make its seasonal appearance alongside the enduring pandemic. With certain flu symptoms overlapping with those of the novel coronavirus, enhanced prudence through flu shots could help avoid misdiagnoses that might delay appropriate COVID-19 treatment.

In response, Tzu Chi USA Southern Region volunteers in Houston, Texas, partnered with Walgreens pharmacy chain to offer free flu shots and COVID-19 vaccination on Sunday, October 24. While the Southern Region provides free flu shots every year, volunteers placed more importance on the 2021 event, given the convergence of two threats to public health.

Thorough Preparations Are Key During the Pandemic

Upon careful consultation with Walgreens, the two organizations decided that Tzu Chi would provide the location and support staff, plan the process, and take care of the public announcement. At the same time, Walgreens would furnish flu shots and two brands of COVID-19 vaccine and dispatch pharmacists and technical staff to administer the shots.

Tzu Chi USA Southern Region volunteers discuss logistics before the public arrives at the COVID-19 vaccination and flu shot event in Houston on October 24, 2021. Photo/Sung-Jan Lin

With the pandemic an ever-present threat, volunteers carefully laid out the detailed procedure to ensure the health and safety of the staff and public. They chose a well-ventilated corridor for the location where Walgreens staff would administer the shots.

The chosen shot administration station is a well-ventilated corridor that allows for proper social distancing. Photo/Sung-Jan Lin

They also planned out how people would queue and proceed from filling out forms to getting the shots, taking social distancing fully into account. Finally, they prepared a designated area for rest and observation for those vaccinated.

Walgreens pharmacy professionals and other technical staff are ready to administer flu shots and COVID-19 vaccines. Photo/Sung-Jan Lin

Furthermore, it was also strictly stipulated that those who volunteer to serve at the event must be doubly vaxxed in advance and have their temperature taken upon arrival before admittance to the site. Finally, everyone present was required to wear face masks and sanitize their hands throughout the occasion. The protocol and procedure didn’t miss a single step in aiming to protect all present from COVID-19 infection.

Everyone attending the event, staff, volunteers, or the public, must wear a face mask and sterilize their hands. Photo/Sung-Jan Lin

The Care Received Touched Hearts

The meticulousness with which Tzu Chi volunteers planned and staged the event struck people as heart-warming. For example, given that the Walgreens vaccine form that care recipients must fill out is in tiny font sizes that might be difficult to read for seniors, volunteers were on hand to help out. Tzu Chi volunteers also assisted care recipients immediately after their shots. During all those moments, touching moments of human connection emerged.

One care recipient who came early happily interacted with Tzu Chi volunteers then drove home but soon doubled back, asking, “How many staff members are working today?” Later that day, he returned with several bags of snacks for medical staff and volunteers, whom he thanked for giving up their Sunday, a day of rest, to volunteer in this initiative to safeguard public health. 

Juan Lemusa, a low-income earner who is disabled and uses an electric wheelchair to get around, learned about the event from his apartment manager and came to get a COVID-19 booster. Understanding his condition and needs, and without him asking, Tzu Chi volunteers told him about Tzu Chi USA Southern Region’s biweekly food distributions held in tandem with Houston Foodbank.

I’m stressed-out economically, and now this will be a huge help!

Getting his contact information, Tzu Chi volunteers would also be able to follow up on Juan’s needs down the road.

After getting his COVID-19 booster and hearing about the possibility of receiving food from Tzu Chi, Juan Lemusa's sense of happiness and relief expands. Photo/Jean Hsu

By the end of the day, 80 people received the shots they needed on October 24, 2021, thanks to the collaboration between Tzu Chi USA and Walgreens. And during the whole endeavor, Tzu Chi volunteers and Walgreens company staff had the opportunity to forge a lasting camaraderie.

Tzu Chi volunteers offer gifts to Walgreen staff in appreciation of the camaraderie they formed by serving together at the event. Photo/Sung-Jan Lin

You can be part of the team too! Join hands with Tzu Chi USA to serve the healthcare needs in our communities nationwide and beyond.

More News Stories