A new effort in Mississippi is focusing on increasing vaccine access for older Black residents after some in rural areas could not get a vaccine appointment, despite being eligible for months, the Associated Press reports.
About 80 adults, including Eola Murray, finally received a COVID-19 vaccination as part of the state’s first mobile event. According to the Associated Press, a bus picked up residents, some who had no over form of transportation, and took them to a community health center for vaccination.
“I loved it — quick and easy,” Murry said after getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Known as the birthplace of the Blues, Clarksdale is 80 percent Black. The small city is in the Mississippi Delta, which the pandemic has hit hard.
Working with community-based organizations made it easier for the state to reach older Black residents. The North Delta Area Agency on Aging and the Rev. S.L.A Jones Activity Center partnered with the state to bring the mobile vaccine program to the community.
Another resident, Linda Busby, said she was scared to get her shot. But once she received it, she was glad she did.
The mobile vaccination day also gave some older adults who had been isolated due to the pandemic an opportunity to socialize. Although the activity center remained closed because of the pandemic, staff stayed connected with residents, providing care packages with necessary goods and meals.
The existing relationship helped break through any lingering concerns or doubts about vaccinations. Black community vaccine trust has been a major conversation point even before the government rolled out the vaccinations.
Vaccine hesitancy decreased through targeted public health outreach. An Associated Press-NORC poll from late March found that only 24 percent of Black adults say they probably or definitely will not get vaccinated. It was 41 percent in January.
Black doctors and health professionals, along with faith leaders and community organizers, shifted the vaccination message. Trusted messengers explaining the ins and outs of the vaccine led to Black people having an “almost 180-degree” turnaround, according to Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, in an interview with the Associated Press.
Part of the trust-building process involved debunking widespread misinformation, often targeted at Black and other communities of color. Organizations like PEN America held roundtable discussions with doctors and disinformation experts to help inform community-based groups and even the media on building trust.
But, as NewsOne previously reported, some skepticism remains as references to the Tuskegee experiments continue to surface in connection to reasons people do not want to get vaccinated.
In an early February op-ed, Drs. Uché Blackstock and Oni Blackstock named public health outreach one of four priorities to address racial inequity in vaccine administration. Experts like the Blackstocks do not brush past the concerns but encourage increased efforts to inform people about what the vaccine entails.