(TNS) - As Virginia cruises toward phase 2 of COVID-19 vaccinations, concerns about supply have morphed into worries about getting the vaccines to underserved areas.
The topic came up Tuesday as a few dozen Hampton Roads clergy leaders and elected officials participated in a “Get out the Vaccine” Zoom session, organized by Celebrate Healthcare LLC, a Hampton-based community organization.
“Here’s the challenge now, change the paradigm to take the vaccinations literally into the communities, pop-up clinics, mobile units,” Rev. Keith Jones, of Shiloh Baptist Church in Norfolk, said during the Zoom call. “And I’m just wondering what resources (are) out there to accomplish this part of this channel to some of our health departments to change their paradigm.”
For the past two months, faith-based leaders have been meeting virtually each week with state officials to share ideas and strategies on how to boost vaccination efforts for communities of color — and especially those without internet access.
Some 1.6 million Virginians have been fully vaccinated with roughly 8% per 100,000 population of those listed as Black and about 7% Latino, according to recent Virginia Department of Health data. Churches around the region have sought to bring vaccines to their congregations; pastors used their pulpits to share that message and encourage people to get their vaccines and why it matters, said Gaylene Kanoyton, who heads Celebrate Healthcare.
The next steps for many pastors are bring the clinics to the people.
“I see it in other states, I see it in other locations, opportunities to literally go into the public housing communities and into communities with underserved people who may find it daunting to go to the ( Hampton Roads) convention center or to Scope or to any other place,” Jones said.
For weeks, Hampton has hosted mass vaccination clinic at the Hampton Roads Convention Center for anyone eligible during phase 1. The clinic operated as a partnership with Peninsula and Hampton health districts and with other Peninsula localities and hospital systems.
But the city has begun flexing in other ways to bring smaller clinics, especially with the advent of state-run vaccination clinics, with assists from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. At least one is running in Portsmouth, others coming, including one at the Hampton Roads Convention Center.
“... Starting at the end of April, so that it can free up our staff, the city staff and the vaccinators that we have, so that we can take those resources and work with community centers, and your faith-based leaders,” said Hui-Shan Walker, Hampton’s Emergency Management Coordinator who was on the call.
The city is looking at the best ways to serve those in public housing or who have limited resources and limited transportation, Walker wrote in an email. Pop-up clinics are one possibility, but it’s crucial to look at issues around vaccine storage and how quickly vaccines must be used. Another possibility is providing transportation for people to get to the large clinics, she said, noting successful bus runs happened at apartment complexes that houses seniors and people with disabilities.
Come May, the city plans to launch a Hampton Health Equity Community Initiative in tandem with the Hampton Redevelopment and Housing Agency to register and educate residents about vaccination clinics, Walker added.
“If they choose to, we can register them on site and we can give them a vaccination, should they want it,” she said. " It’s nice for people to just walk to their community centers and come in.”
Vaccination supply was limited during the first rollout in January and it was complicated, but that’s about the change, federal officials say.
“It was hard for people to sign up, there was a land rush on the computer like you were trying to order Rolling Stones tickets or something, you know, to try to get your place in line. And that was very frustrating, particularly for people who didn’t have good computer access,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, who also was on the call. “There should be vaccine that’s available for every American adult by mid-April. We’ll switch from a supply problem to a demand problem.”
“There was an awful lot of people wouldn’t go to the convention center, the lines were really long. If you’re elderly, that’s tough,” Kaine said. “If the state can take over the mass vaccine sites and let local health officials then go out and do outreach to communities that still haven’t been vaccinated, that’s the key to really making this work.”
Lisa Vernon Sparks, 757-247-4832, firstname.lastname@example.org
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