Vaccine Access, Trust are Key Issues in Vulnerable Communities

IW’s latest “Community Conversation” focused on “The Vaccine & The Vulnerable,” exploring issues of health inequities in communities hit hard by the pandemic. The conversation was guided by IW’s Rev. Dr. Rosetta Robinson, director of the Emergency Assistance Coalition.

Shawn Ellis of Montgomery County’s Office of Community Partnerships noted Montgomery County’s success in connecting with underrepresented communities to boost participation in the 2020 Census. The County now is deploying a similar outreach model to reach communities of color, share information, and build trust about the disease and vaccine.

He said Montgomery County is committed to addressing COVID-related equity issues, with efforts that include prioritizing vaccine access by targeting zip codes that are home to a disproportionate number of people affected by the disease.

But he and other speakers highlighted two limiting factors: access and hesitancy. Ellis noted that low-income residents are challenged by barriers to getting accurate information, getting tested, and gaining access to preregister for the vaccine. The access problems often center around technology limitations – the inability to sign up via a computer or other device. Other access issues include transportation limitations and language barriers.

The hesitancy issue relates to the need to build trust in the vaccine and delivery process. Ellis said the county’s COVID outreach team is working closely with partners in faith communities and other community-based partners. Elijah Wheeler, executive director of Montgomery County Collaboration Council and chair of the County Executive’s African American Advisory Council, said, “We need trusted messengers who look like the community we are trying to serve to be sure people are getting the information they need.” He acknowledged County leaders’ efforts to respond to equity issues, but “the issue is much larger than Montgomery County,” including vaccine supplies that are controlled at the State and Federal levels.

Physician Dr. Kathryn Kelly, a leader of the African American Health Program, provided valuable information about how the vaccines work and their effectiveness. She also provided answers to frequently asked questions. Dr. Kelly indicated she is part of a group of doctors who are asking Montgomery County to designate physicians of color as vaccine providers to enhance access and trust.

IW CEO Courtney Hall noted that disparities and equity issues in vaccine delivery are “placing our most vulnerable communities at risk.” A lack of transportation to a vaccine site, or the inability to log on to preregister to get the vaccine “are real barriers.”

The session was part of IW’s ongoing “Community Conversation” Zoom series delving into the impacts of the COVID pandemic. Thank you to the experts who participated in the conversation and those who joined the call. You can watch the whole conversation here. IW will hold a follow-on session, “The Vaccine & The Vulnerable, Part 2,” on March 25. Registration information is here.

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