The Wisconsin Black Historical Society vaccination site (Credit: Metcalfe Park Community Bridges)

For Danell Cross, executive director of Metcalfe Park Community Bridges, the journey to get her COVID-19 vaccines was just that – a journey.

Cross’s vaccine appointment was at the Wisconsin Center, the convention and exhibition center located among the vastness of downtown Milwaukee.

“I really represent the Metcalfe Park community in a lot of ways and one of those ways is that I’m not really familiar with Downtown like some people might be,” said Cross. “So, I had to get a ride down there, because I didn’t know where I was going, and I went down to this really gigantic center.”

After successfully navigating her way there, Cross answered some pre-appointment questions and then received the shot. She was pretty much in and out, Cross said. But she considered that the easy part of it all.

Difficulty comes in the form of having to go downtown, to unfamiliar landscapes – a feeling she knows residents she serves can relate to.

“What I do know, for my community, is that they are not familiar with these places downtown,” said Cross. “It’s not places they go to on a regular basis.”

The Wisconsin Black Historical Society vaccination site sign (Credit: Metcalfe Park Community Bridges)

And there are other barriers that may present themselves before ever having to tackle that trip. For example, registering for an appointment, the required first place, happens all online – something many members of her neighborhood may not be able to get past, she explained.

“I knew that was going to be a challenge that people had to go online to register,” Cross said. “That was not going to work for our neighborhood. It’s not a system that they use.”

Hurdles such as securing vaccine appointments to then actually finding ways to said appointment, are some factors in distribution disparities. But work is being done to aid that.

Northwestern Mutual, through its Foundation, partnered with the City of Milwaukee Health Department to launch vaccination sites in the Amani and Metcalfe Park neighborhoods late March. The neighborhoods were identified as high-priority areas most affected by the coronavirus, according to the press release.

These clinics help to take out logistical and location barriers potentially present for some residents in regards to vaccine appointments. Vaccination sites are located at the COA Youth & Family Center, 2320 W. Burleigh St., and the Wisconsin Black Historical Society, 2620 W. Center St.

Neither appoints nor identification cards are required to receive a vaccine from either of these vaccination sites, instead vaccines appointments are available via walk-ups. They wanted to make it easy, explained Charlotte Cannon-Sain, executive director of COA Youth & Family Centers, and give residents a clear and comfortable pathway for the vaccine.

“What we wanted to do was make it as easy as possible for the people that live in the communities that we serve once they make that decision to have access to the vaccine,” Cannon-Sain said.

Sites are run by the city health department who administers the vaccines. The officials have been efficient at getting residents in and out and answering questions they may have.

These locations are important as they are recognizable for the communities they serve. The centers are familiar and have an established relationship with residents.

“We thought those were some really great places to hold these clinics,” Cannon-Sain said. “They also have the relationship with the community, which is really important for this particular type of event.”

Some concerns, though, are still prevalent in the community regarding the safety of the vaccine. Organizations have been working to reassure residents worries and encourage them to get it. Cross understands the worries Black residents have regarding the health care industry and hopes to ease them.

“Truthfully, what I tell people about the vaccine, even though we still feel that it’s experimental, that it is not an experiment on Black people,” said Cross. “It’s an experiment on everybody across this country. It’s not targeted to Black people.”

Cross stresses the vaccine is the best way to keep residents safe and out of the hospital. She knows everyone wants to get back to being with one another and said that the best way to do so is to receive the vaccine. She has found great success so far in speaking with and reassuring the community.

For those just unsure or on the fence, Cannon-Sain understands, having been there, too, but she tells residents to consider getting the vaccine in order to keep those closest to them safe.

“If there’s some hesitancy and you don’t want to do it for you, do it for your loved ones,” Cannon-Sain said.

While this progress with accessibility has been beneficial for the areas, Cross still believes there’s ways to go when it comes to equity in vaccine distribution. She feels they are currently having to play catch-up, creating a circumstance she was not very favorable in seeing.

“In order to create equity, you have to work at it,” Cross said. “I believe our city did not work at it, so we have had a very inequitable roll-out of the vaccine and now, we’re trying to play catch-up. It is not what I would have liked to see.”

Vaccines are available for residents 16 and older in the 53206 and 53210 zip codes. No appointment is necessary. Upcoming dates are as followed for each site:

COA Youth & Family Centers (2320 W. Burleigh St)
• Saturday, April 17,
9 a.m. – 1 p.m.
• Saturday, May 8,
9 a.m. – 1 p.m.
• Saturday, May 29,
9 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Wisconsin Black Historical Society (2620 W. Center St)
• Saturday, April 24,
12 – 4 p.m.
• Saturday, May 15,
12 – 4 p.m.
• Saturday, June 5,
12 – 4 p.m.