Amidst the novel coronavirus pandemic, families seen at the Department of Pediatrics were particularly susceptible to the health and economic consequences of the COVID-19 crisis. Many families who receive their care at Boston Medical Center, particularly those with very young children, were weighing the costs and benefits of potentially exposing themselves and their children to the virus in order to visit the hospital for essential vaccines. Many families faced reasonable uncertainties about whether the relative benefits of bringing their child in for this appointment outweighed unknown risks of exposure.

The primary care program had concerns that if parents opted to stay home rather than coming in for visits that included routine childhood vaccines, we would have another infectious outbreak of vaccine preventable illnesses such as measles—an illness requiring very high rates of vaccination to reach herd immunity. To address families’ anxieties and reduce risk of COVID-19 transmission while maximizing vaccination rates, the clinical team launched a mobile vaccine unit to deliver inoculations outside of the hospital.

Medical Director Eileen Costello and Director of Ambulatory Nursing Tami Chase developed, implemented and championed an innovative new idea: to bring the vaccines to the families.

Beginning in April, teams including nurses and pediatric providers travelled into communities where families live to deliver curbside care including weight checks, physical examinations and immunizations.  The mobile unit also supplied material goods such as diapers and food from BMC’s Food Pantry. Since launching, the mobile unit has visited 900 families and administered more than 2,200 vaccines.

It did not take long for news of this project to reach media outlets, garnering local and national attention. Based on early success, the mobile unit has extended to departments such Obstetrics and Gynecology, Family Medicine and Geriatrics. Additionally, services have expanded to include provision of curbside flu shots and offering patients voter registration forms.

Currently, the Center for the Urban Child and Healthy Family is evaluating the impact of mobile unit program on health care delivery and patient and provider opinions of care.