By Caity Monroe
Thanks to a new effort to bring politics and public health together in an accessible way, voters on Tuesday will now be able to receive influenza vaccines and cast their votes in one convenient trip. School of Medicine faculty and students have been working with local government officials to provide free or low-cost vaccines at two polling stations in Palo Alto and San Jose.
“What’s unique about this is people can vote and not get a vaccine or they can get a vaccine and not vote,” said Walter Newman ’74, clinical faculty advisor to the student-initiated program. “But we obviously encourage both.”
So-called “Vote and Vax” programs have previously been successful in other locations, but this particular initiative is the first to come to the Bay Area as well as the first to be led by a medical school.
Newman has led an influenza vaccination program for the past 10 years. He first mentioned the idea of offering those vaccines at voting booths to two of his medical students during the 2008 presidential election season. At that point, it was too late in the season to start a local effort, but they quickly started preparing for the next voting cycle.
“We’ve really been ramping up for two years getting ready for Stanford Vote and Vax on Election Day,” Newman said.
By setting up vaccine clinics at these convenient locations, Stanford faculty and medical students hope to reach sections of the local population that they might not be able to help otherwise.
“This will be the first time that Stanford is going to the broader community,” said Vote and Vax coordinator and medical student Shah Ali. Ali was one of Newman’s original students who became interested in the Vote and Vax program.
“We vaccinate at the free clinics,” Ali said. “But this is us going and meeting with all sorts of people and vaccinating them, hopefully.”
Ali also said that this type of program “has a track record,” reporting that research has shown that about 30 percent of people vaccinated by Vote and Vax at the voting booth were not vaccinated the previous year.
Because the effort is new this year, those involved aren’t sure what to expect on Election Day. According to Newman, each polling location will be equipped with 350 vaccinations, which will be distributed until the stations run out.
“We have no idea how it’s going to be received, how many people will show up, but whatever happens we’re going to have a good time,” said Ali, who was especially impressed by the cooperative effort made by the Stanford Medical School and local Santa Clara County officials and departments.
“For me what was most interesting was the collaborative nature of this program,” Ali said. “We worked hand in hand with local government.”
The “Vote and Vax” initiative is a result of cooperation between the Stanford School of Medicine faculty, medical students, the Santa Clara County Health Department, the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters and the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors.