Above and below: COVID-19 vaccines are administered at Terasaki Budokan in Little Tokyo. Second doses will be given to local low-income seniors on March 16 in partnership with Wesley Health Centers.

Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC) and Wesley Health Centers have partnered to bring a mobile vaccination clinic to Little Tokyo, providing the COVID-19 vaccine to local low-income seniors who otherwise do not have access.

The first dose was administered on Feb. 16 and the second dose will be administered on March 16 at the Terasaki Budokan facility.

Of the roughly 1,000 seniors living in Little Tokyo, 540 live in low-income senior housing. 90% of them do not speak English, have no technology at home and do not drive — creating a lofty barrier to accessing the COVID-19 vaccine. Only one quarter of them have family members that were able to help them navigate the multi-step online vaccination process, leaving hundreds of low-income seniors without support.

LTSC and Wesley Health Centers worked together to meet this unmet community health need. Wesley Health Centers generously supplied the vaccines, the mobile vaccination unit and staff to help distribute the doses. LTSC social workers called seniors to notify them of the vaccination opportunity and conducted pre-registration in Japanese, Korean, Chinese and Spanish.

The clinic’s first day on Feb. 16 inoculated 140 seniors. Seniors walked to the clinic hosted at Terasaki Budokan, were greeted and checked in, escorted into the gymnasium for their shots, and then brought outside to the observation area before they were on their way home again. LTSC provided in-language support every step of the way.

“Like many programs during COVID, LTSC and its highly efficient staff were able to pivot from their regular work and meet this challenge,” said Erich Nakano, executive director of LTSC. All told, about 50 LTSC staff were involved in preparing for the clinic and 27 were on hand the day of along with a dozen from Wesley Health Centers.

“This was a very admirable and rewarding collaborative effort performed by two mission-driven agencies,” said Dr. Paul Gregerson, chief medical officer of Wesley Health Centers. “The potential to save lives cannot be overstated, and it’s heartwarming to know that our seniors are being cared for in a most compassionate manner,”

“From the location to timing, having everything in Little Tokyo was very convenient,” said Masayoshi Sasaki, a six-year resident of Little Tokyo Towers. “LTSC staff was very supportive at each step. It was very smooth and someone was always available. Even though I understand English, it was a great comfort to have the vaccine process and medical jargon explained to me in Japanese.”

“I don’t have family nearby to take me to a clinic, so I was thrilled when LTSC reached out about the vaccine clinic at Budokan,” said Mariko Herron, a 17-year resident of Little Tokyo Towers. “After I came home from the clinic, I was so excited that I called my family right away. They are so relieved to know that I am now vaccinated. It was so nice to see many familiar LTSC staff at the clinic. I’m grateful for this opportunity.”

LTSC is a social service and community development organization that has been creating positive change for the people and places in Southern California for 40 years. Starting with its home in Little Tokyo, LTSC preserves and strengthens the unique ethnic communities of the region where people, culture and collective future matter. www.LTSC.org

Wesley Health Centers, operated by JWCH Institute Inc., is a 501 (c)(3) federally qualified health center established in 1960. Wesley is the largest provider of homeless health care in California and its mission is to “improve the health status and well-being of underserved segments of the population of Los Angeles County through the direct provision or coordination of health care, health education, services, and research.” It currently operates 35 sites, which include primary care clinics, dental clinics, school-based sites, mental health and substance use treatment sites, homeless health care, and mobile units to provide quality and integrated care to low-income and homeless residents throughout L.A. County. http://jwchinstitute.org/

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