As Vaccinations Slow, Doctors Shift Vaccine Focus to Vulnerable Communities

Despite the COVID19 pandemic’s disproportionate impact on communities of color, Black people and Hispanic people are still going underrepresented in most states’ vaccination totals, according to an analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Lack of access to transportation or to the internet can make it impossible to obtain a shot. And while surveys from the foundation show a decline in vaccine hesitancy among both groups, distrust fueled by past and current mistreatment in health care can remain a deterrent.

Dozens of counties where vaccination rates sit in the low double digits also have a high social vulnerability index from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That’s an indicator that some of the communities facing a greater risk of being devastated by the pandemic have the scarcest defense. And yet doctors who serve these communities are finding themselves with a surplus of vaccines they can’t seem to give away.

COVID vaccine distirbution
[Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images]
NBC News profile one such community in North Carolina. In the racially diverse county of Hoke (49 percent white, 36 percent Black, 14 percent Latino, and 9 percent Native American) where many already suffer from poor health and work in industries like the service sector and agriculture, there is little room for social distancing. Hoke County is one of several in North Carolina in the orange zone for new cases, one rung below the state’s worst category.

Now doctors are “microtargeting” these communities in the hopes of getting all of the residents vaccinated. That might range from setting up a smaller site near a community center where people can easily walk up to receive a shot, or a van bringing vaccinations to an apartment complex. Such approaches are already being deployed in cities like Baltimore, which recently launched a pop-up clinic at a community college. The idea is to use door-knocking campaigns and social media advertisements to spread the word in nearby neighborhoods before each clinic.

In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, officials are planning an outreach event outside a popular nightclub. In Chicago, youth ambassadors with Increase the Peace, an anti-violence initiative, have also started sharing information about the shots.

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