Shots for Tots and Teens in Aurora Gets Families Ready for a Healthy School Year
By Jordan Savold, Communications and Research Fellow at the Colorado Children’s Immunization Coalition
If you happen to drive by Fire Station #2 in Aurora on a certain Saturday of the month, you might see a long line of families extending from the entry way. Once a month, immunizations are provided at little to no cost at this fire station through Shots for Tots and Teens program to help ensure that everyone has an opportunity to live a safe, healthy life free from vaccine-preventable disease.
On a recent Saturday, I had the privilege of attending the event myself. Here’s what happened.
10 a.m.: As clinic volunteers make preparations to ensure everything runs smoothly, a cluster of people has already gathered outside the fire station. It’s an eclectic crowd—varying ethnicities, cultures, ages, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Some people live down the street, others have come from miles away. Babies, toddlers, teens, parents, and even a grandmother wait in line. They are all different, but they all have the same goal: to stay healthy by getting vaccinated.
Inside the fire station, a collection of firefighters, volunteers from the Aurora Rotary Club, and nurses from the Tri-County Health Department prepare for the families, who are seeking their back-to-school shots. An air of excitement hovers in the fire station as volunteers introduce themselves to each other. While final preparations are made for the arrival of the first patients, Rebecca Miles, a nurse in the Immunization Branch of Tri-County Health Department and today’s organizer of immunization operations, goes over the plans for the event.
The Shots for Tots and Teens program got its start in Aurora thanks to Diana Payne, who serves as foundation director of the Aurora Rotary Group, and Mary Beth Sharp, former Aurora Rotary Chairperson. After a scary experience when a member of her son’s soccer team contracted pertussis (whooping cough) about ten years ago, Diana wanted to learn more about vaccine-preventable disease. She was shocked to discover that Colorado’s children immunization rate was among the lowest in the nation.
The idea that we can now prevent epidemics is something that only began within the past 100 years and is one of the greatest advancements of the 20th Century. Before that, hundreds of thousands of people would die from vaccine-preventable diseases every year. Some diseases, such as polio, didn’t have a vaccine until 1952. While we have made outstanding advancements in biotechnology to address this problem, eliminating vaccine-preventable diseases still proves very challenging. Even now, the United States and many other countries struggle with uptake and accessibility of immunizations, allowing vaccine-preventable diseases to remain a threat.
10:15 a.m.: The flow of families through the doors begins. On this Saturday morning, Len Brass, a Rotary member who has spent more than 28 years volunteering his time, begins to warmly greet families at the entrance and usher them inside. He jokes with kids, talks with parents, and welcomes everyone with a friendly smile. Even when a common language is not shared and other cultural differences are apparent, the arriving families appear to feel safe and comfortable as Len brings them through the doors of the station.
Len’s passion is obvious as he interacts with the families. “Touching lives is what it is all about,” he says. “Each of us can make a difference.”
1st stop: At a row of tables, nurses from the Tri-County Health Department answer questions and help individuals with their paperwork (in more than 20 languages) so that shots can be given.
“I love the idea of a population being your patient,” says Rebecca Miles, in the true spirit of public health. “We can protect an entire population from a potentially deadly disease.”
2nd stop: After each family has been assisted by the nurses, they head to a room in the back of the fire station where they will receive their vaccinations. A handful of firefighters wait at tables for the next patient. As kids enter the room, the firefighters greet each of them:
“What’s up, buddy?”
“How are you feeling, a little nervous?”
“They’ve got a juice box for you, dude!”
The Aurora Fire Department, Tri-County Health Department, and Rotary Club have come together to support a cause they all believe in. It’s obvious that for each of the volunteers, this event has a personal meaning. Without their honorable commitment, the members of this community would need to seek out other resources.
“Immunizations are important for the health of each individual child as well as our country as a whole,” says Diane Burridge, the Aurora Rotary Programs Chair. “I love the community feel…,” adds Rebecca. “Everyone comes together in different ways.”
Some of the volunteers remember the horrors of vaccine-preventable diseases from their childhood and are grateful now for the protection vaccines provide to society today. “I am old enough to remember what it was like before vaccines came out,” says Diane. “When I was in high school I had friends who had polio,” adds Diana. “They survived, but it changed their lives forever. It’s wrong for people to be getting diseases that are totally preventable.”
Between 10 AM and 12 PM a steady flow of families continues in for their shots; having some snacks, chatting with firefighters, and leaving with a new shield of defense at work in their immune systems in the blink of an eye.
1:00 p.m.: At the end of the day the volunteers help pack up. It’s quiet now, and the screams echoing from the handful of needle-fearing kids at the event no longer rings in their ears. In fact, every family left smiling—happy and grateful to be immunized before the start of the new school year.
Thanks to Shots for Tots and Teens, and the significant partnership between the Aurora Fire Department, Tri-County Health Department, the Rotary Club of Aurora and the Rotary Club of Five Points Cultural District, the Colorado Children’s Immunization Coalition, Denver Health/Denver Public Health, and the Denver Health Paramedic Division, an awareness of the importance of vaccines continues to be on the rise and families have a wonderful resource to receive their shots—happy, healthy, and ready for the year.
The next Shots for Tots and Teens clinic at Aurora Fire Station #2 will be Saturday, October 10. The next Denver Shots for Tots and Teens clinic will be Saturday, September 26 at the Colorado Miners Community Center.
For more information about Shots for Tots and Teens, please visit www.shotsfortotsandteens.org.