Santa visits Detroit to encourage COVID-19 vaccinations as the holidays near from the Detroit Free Press

December 12, 2021

By Emma Stein

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that the mobile units were from the Wayne Health nonprofit. 

Santa’s reindeer braved the cold, 60-mph winds in southeast Michigan on Saturday afternoon so he could get to Detroit to help encourage community members to get vaccinated.

A Wayne Health Mobile Unit provided COVID-19 vaccines, as well as flu shots and other health screenings, at the pop-up clinic at Sanders Memorial A.M.E. Church. The event also featured a visit with Santa, ice sculptures, and food.

“Even if they come just to get the food, see Santa and ice sculptor, we have an opportunity to give them information so that maybe the next time they’ll go and get vaccinated,” said Joelynn Stokes, pastor at Sanders Memorial A.M.E. Church.

As health officials say Michigan coronavirus cases continue to trend in a ‘deeply concerning direction,’ the state lags behind other states in vaccination rates. As of Saturday, only 56.1% of Michigan residents are fully vaccinated.

The omicron variant, shown to be even more transmissible than the delta variant, has been identified in the state and hospitals are overflowing with COVID-19 patients, the majority of whom are unvaccinated.

“The situation in our state is critical right now. Cases are surging, hospitals are full and we have a new variant,” said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, the state’s chief medical executive. “I strongly urge all Michiganders to … get vaccinated, get boosted, to wear a well-fitting mask whenever you are in indoor public settings … and get tested if you have symptoms that could be COVID-19; get tested if you feel you may have been exposed; get tested before any unmasked gatherings. We’re really at a critical place in this pandemic and it’s really time for everyone to do their part.”

This isn’t Stokes’ first effort to get her community vaccinated. A member of Choose Healthy Life and United Way, she has helped organize four events since January 2021.

She said people get vaccinated at each event she has hosted, and that’s a success in her book.

“I’m just trying to create a environment that will encourage people to come out,” she said. “And then so that we can give them information resources and possibly talk to them about getting vaccinated and the importance of continuing to get tested.”

A lot of people come up to the pop-up with a lot of questions and doubts, and she, along with medical experts, can help clear up some of the uncertainty, she said.

The main issues people come to her with are a lack of trust and not wanting to be told what to do, Stokes said.

“If they just talk about this general distrust of government and we just talked about you know, things going on positive that they wanted the government and other vaccinations and how they have helped,” Stokes explained.

Sharonda Robinson is fully vaccinated, but brought her 9-year-old son Aidan Robinson to get his first dose.

They braved the brutal wind and Aidan’s fear of needles to make sure he got his vaccine.

“It’s good to see the church giving back again to the community,” she said.

Nate and Kelly Mitchell were the event’s Mr. and Mrs. Claus, and they said they couldn’t be happier to be celebrating the spirit of Christmas and encouraging people to stay healthy and protect their loved ones.

They’re new to the Santa business and are only on their second year, but say nothing beats the excitement and love they feel when they interact with both children and grown-ups in the community.

“We’re just trying to bring some cheer and just want everybody to be safe,” Kelly said.

Visit our Wayne Health Mobile Unit page to find a time and location near you to receive your COVID-19 vaccine.

Santa visits Detroit to encourage COVID-19 vaccinations as the holidays near from the Detroit Free Press
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