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Vaccine Vans: Bringing COVID-19 Testing and Vaccination to an Underserved Community in Brooklyn

Last Updated: October 11, 2022


When the winter wave of COVID-19 was at its peak in December 2021, there was a distinct shortage of testing in New York City, with many neighborhoods severely lacking access to testing sites and drugstores running out of at-home tests at breakneck speeds. The city’s response included organizing home COVID tests distribution with trucks sent to neighborhoods in need. However, many such distribution events seemed to have underestimated need and were quickly overwhelmed by the demand of the community. On Christmas Eve, in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Flatbush only minutes from the campus of the State University of New York Downstate College of Medicine (SUNY Downstate), one such home test distribution event went terribly awry. Tests quickly ran out and law enforcement officers were called to the scene of a frustrated community. After learning of this event, medical students across all classes at SUNY Downstate decided to advocate for better access to COVID testing in the Flatbush community. With the support of the Downstate chapter of Students for a National Healthcare Program (SNaHP), students identified a city program that would provide mobile vans to community sites. In collaboration with the NYC Test and Trace corps, students secured a mobile testing and vaccination site for the neighborhood that would provide free services to all patients, regardless of insurance status. A robust community outreach program was developed to inform the community about the new testing resource and encourage its use. Students created flyers and posted them around the community, updating weekly as new dates and times were coordinated with the NYC Test and Trace program (see supplemental materials). A strong social media presence bolstered the community approach and served to broaden outreach. As many mobile sites lacked contact information where patients could ask questions, a Facebook page and Gmail account were created to answer questions and provide clarification. This was utilized by many community members, and being able to directly communicate information about wait times, insurance, and directions was helpful in keeping the process smooth for patients. This program provided vital services of both testing and vaccination to the under-resourced neighborhood of Flatbush for over four months and gave students valuable opportunities to connect with community members and learn more about the New York City health system.


1. Kwong J. 2021 Dec 24. Desperate crowds fight for Covid tests distributed in New York City amid Omicron. Metro. [accessed 2022 Jul 8]. https://metro.co.uk/2021/12/24/desperate-crowds-fight-for-covid-tests-in-new-york-city-amid-omicron….
2. COVID-19 Testing Sites | NYC Health + Hospitals. wwwnychealthandhospitals.org. [accessed 2022 Jul 8]. https://www.nychealthandhospitals.org/covid-19-testing-sites/ 


Joya Ahmad, MS2, State University of New York - Downstate College of Medicine (joya.ahmad@downstate.edu)
Carlos Barreto, MS2, State University of New York - Downstate College of Medicine
Manahil Muneeb, MS2, State University of New York - Downstate College of Medicine
Vivek Shah, MS3, State University of New York - Downstate College of Medicine