Older people and people of color are among those that have been hardest hit by COVID-19. But they’re also the ones who may struggle the most to get the vaccine.
NHRMC is working to change that using several different tactics, from talking to church groups about the vaccine to holding scheduling events in various communities, even going into patients’ homes if they can’t leave.
Dr. Philip Brown, NHRMC’s Chief Physician Executive, says a variety of outreach measures are vital to ensure that access to the vaccine is equitable.
“COVID-19 has disproportionately affected communities of color with disparate rates of infection and death across the country,” he said in a video message from the North Carolina Medical Society. “As we enter a phase of preventive vaccination with the power to eliminate this pandemic, we have to make sure that there is equitable access and at times preferential access to life-saving vaccines for those most adversely affected.”
A Lack of Access and Trust
Nationally, black people and Hispanic people have been more likely to die from COVID-19 than white people, according to the COVID Tracking Project. That’s because people in these groups are more likely to live in poverty and to lack healthcare access, according to the CDC. People of color are also more likely to hold jobs in essential work settings like healthcare facilities, grocery stores, or farms, putting them at a higher risk to contract the disease.
Getting the COVID vaccine will provide protection against the virus. But even signing up for an appointment to receive the vaccine has proven difficult for older people, people with low socioeconomic status, and people of color. Signups are primarily done online, and people in these groups may be less likely to have a computer and/or a smartphone. Even if they can access the internet, 52 million Americans don’t know how to use it.
On top of that, many people of color don’t trust the healthcare system, said Dr. Tomi Farotimi, ambulatory care pharmacy resident, pointing to the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, which examined untreated syphilis in black men from the 1930s to 1970s. (The men were told they were receiving free health care, but their treatments were all placebos or ineffective methods.) Or they trust other entities in their community more, like their church leaders, said Kevin Briggs, Administrator of Laboratory and Respiratory Care Services.
How NHRMC Is Helping
NHRMC has developed a coordinated outreach effort across the system to reach people throughout New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender counties.
Briggs and his team are tackling both the access and trust issues using lessons learned from NHRMC’s Getting Healthy at the Barber initiative and the Faith Health Network.
Before scheduling vaccine appointments, Briggs and his team partnered with about 16 churches throughout Brunswick County to hold education sessions about the vaccine and answer congregants’ questions. After the community developed trust in the vaccine, NHRMC began scheduling appointments for them, holding in-person scheduling events or calling patients on the phone rather than asking them to sign up online.
It’s a grassroots effort – and it’s working, Briggs said. Almost 100 people showed up to one of the first events his team held in Navassa.
There are several other similar kinds of outreach to underserved groups taking place across NHRMC. Pharmacists like Farotimi and other providers have participated in many Facebook Live interviews to educate the community about the vaccine and answer questions.
Sarah Arthur, NHRMC Manager of Community Engagement, said NHRMC is working closely with the New Hanover County Health Department to ensure the two organizations are effectively coordinating to reach these groups.
Arthur is leading the community vaccine outreach to historically underserved and minority populations. She is working with leaders like Briggs to ensure that all areas and people are covered. For instance, the team is working with Dr. Mary Kathryn Rudyk and NHRMC Coastal Family Medicine, both of whom serve senior adults who can’t leave their homes, to bring vaccines directly to their doors.
Arthur’s team is also working closely with NHRMC’s employee resource groups to reach communities, such as NHRMC’s Todos Unidos group for Hispanic and Latino employees. In January, Todos Unidos directly contacted members of the Latino community by phone to help them schedule their vaccine appointments at The Pointe. NHRMC’s dedicated COVID phone line also has translators to help people who don’t speak English make an appointment.
Both Briggs and Arthur pointed out that outreach efforts will be continuing for some time as the state moves through the different phases of vaccine distribution.
“We want to make all of our efforts scalable,” Arthur said.
Briggs agreed, noting his goal is to try to stay one step ahead of the next phase and reach out to individuals in that group ahead of time.
“We’re doing a lot of different things to touch people and meet them where they are,” he said.
One Patient’s Experience
Gail Eddie received her first dose of the vaccine at a clinic held at Mt. Olive AME Church on Friday, Feb. 5.
She heard about the event from a friend and said she was impressed with the efficiency of the clinic.
“Everything was very organized,” she said, noting she didn’t have to wait long. “It was a good experience.”
The day after she received the first shot, she said her arm felt sore and she felt “a little wiped out,” but she was back to normal after a few days.
She said she would encourage anyone who was hesitant to receive the vaccine.
“It reminds me of the polio vaccine. I feel like it’s very necessary,” she said. “I think of all those childhood vaccines – measles, smallpox. I feel like this is one of those, but maybe more important.”
NHRMC announces when new appointments are available when we have additional supplies of vaccines. The status will be at www.nhrmc.org/coronavirus.
NHRMC has an email list available for anyone to sign up to receive notifications when COVID-19 vaccine appointments are available. To sign up, visit http://eepurl.com/hoG4r1.