Doctors work to bring COVID testing, vaccines to Philadelphia's Latino community

Unidos Contra Covid approached the issue with not just medical knowledge but cultural knowledge.
PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- The fight against COVID-19 is just as much about the people as it is the medicine. That's the perspective of one group of doctors who are focusing their efforts on the Latino community.

"Each path we tried to go down, we were always stopped. We just had to make a lane change," said Dr. Melissa Pluguez who helped to found the nonprofit organization Unidos Contra Covid (or "United Against COVID").

Inspired by the Black Doctors Covid Consortium's success, Pluguez worked with Latino doctors to form the group at during the height of the pandemic when COVID testing wasn't readily available to every community. During that time, statistics also revealed that the pandemic was disproportionately affecting the Latino community, leading to higher rates of positive cases.

Unidos Contra Covid approached the issue with not just medical knowledge but cultural knowledge.

"We are multi-generational households," she said. "Add to that, especially in the LatinX community, you have the migrant farmers, you have the ones who are undocumented and really scared to get medical care."

The group first provided access to testing and then vaccines. Many of those shots went into the arms of people for whom mass vaccination sites like the Pennsylvania Convention Center just didn't work.

"They're not going to go out of their way to the convention center when that first started for vaccinations," said Pluguez. "That was a place that was populated by people with uniforms, military guards. To them in their countries, that is a no-go zone."

But the group almost didn't get the opportunity to vaccinate people on a large scale. Unidos Contra Covid lost out on a contract with the city of Philadelphia to provide vaccinations.

"Because we are an organization with no brick and mortar (location), we actually had no place to store the fridge and the vaccine safely, which we understand," said Pluguez.

Instead of stopping their mission, they sought out help and found Joseph Urban, owner of Urban Care Pharmacy in North Philadelphia. Partnering with the pharmacy, which is in an area with a higher Latino population, Unidos Contra Covid was able to help secure a grant for a so-called ultra freezer in which the vaccine could be stored at a proper 80 degrees.

"I went into pharmacy to help people," said Urban. "Twenty-five years in the business. This is what we do."

As a result of the partnership, Unidos Contra Covid has vaccinated upwards of 1,500 people in recent months. It's a fact that makes Pluguez proud and pushes her to continue.

"We keep going, and they keep showing up," she said.

Unidos Contra Covid is currently seeking out partner locations and organizations to provide more mobile vaccination clinics. For more information on that and upcoming vaccination events by Unidos Contra Covid CLICK HERE.
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