‘Deeper into the community.’ NC to get $95 million to expand COVID vaccination outreach

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Brian Murphy
·5 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

The residents of Southeast Raleigh’s 27610 zip code have been among the most impacted in the state by the coronavirus pandemic. This week, Advance Community Health will be holding a mobile event at the Southeast Raleigh YMCA with 400 one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccines to distribute.

With all North Carolina residents 16 and up eligible for the vaccine as of Wednesday, Advance — a Raleigh-based community health center and one of about 40 in the state — is trying to bring the vaccine to people where they are.

“That’s exactly what our goal is — to get deeper into the community,” said Kelly Wright, the director of marketing and communications at Advance.

The efforts are funded by the federal government through COVID-19 relief money designed for testing and vaccination outreach into underserved communities.

And North Carolina is set to receive nearly $95 million more to expand such programs with the majority of it aimed at racial and ethnic minority communities, the Biden administration will announce Tuesday.

Staff at Advance have administered more than 5,800 total vaccines, including first and second doses, as of April 3. Fifty percent of those fully vaccinated by the group are Black and 19% live in the 27610 zip code, Wright said. Advance now orders its vaccine allotments straight from the federal government and does not use part of the state allotment.

Friday’s event at the YMCA is the first of several mobile events planned by Advance in the coming weeks. Other stops are scheduled in Zebulon and at the Mexican consulate in Raleigh. It has other events scheduled at North Carolina community colleges and the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina.

“We like to serve people who serve our underserved people,” Wright said in a telephone interview Monday night.

How the money will be used

The federal money comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention via a federal COVID-19 relief bill passed in March 2020 and another, the American Rescue Plan, passed last month. North Carolina will receive $94.8 million of the $3 billion being made available.

Three-quarters of the money must go to specific programs and initiatives to increase access and acceptance among racial and ethnic minority communities, and 60% must be distributed to local health departments, community-based organizations and community health centers, the CDC said.

That could include Piedmont Health, a community health center serving 14 counties including Orange and Lee. About 50% of Piedmont’s patients identify as Latino or Hispanic and another 20 to 25% identify as African American.

Piedmont Health has given out about 17,500 vaccines, according to CEO Brian Toomey, including first and second doses.

“We’re focused on taking care of the patients we see. We want to make sure there’s equity and diversity and inclusion in all that we do,” Toomey said in a phone interview Monday.

Toomey said Piedmont focused on educating its own workers and addressing their concerns about the vaccines early in the vaccination effort. That allowed them to be positive advocates for the vaccine as eligibility requirements loosened and more people became eligible in North Carolina.

Everyone in North Carolina ages 16 and above is eligible for a vaccine as of April 7. No photo ID or insurance is needed, and U.S. citizenship is not required or checked, according to the state.

“With most health care, people decide mostly through word of mouth from people they trust,” Toomey said. “We’re working with patients first, then they talk to their family circle and that spread out from the middle.”

Those testimonials or conversations are more important than endorsements from celebrities or national figures, Toomey said. Piedmont also worked with faith organizations to spread the word and find out what concerns people had so it could address them directly.

“By doing that, we’ve been successful and will continue to be,” Toomey said.

Among the programs the CDC highlighted were door-to-door outreach for awareness or appointment sign-ups or hiring bilingual workers to distribute information about vaccinations.

More than 2 million North Carolina residents were fully vaccinated as of Monday, The News & Observer reported. That’s more than a quarter of the state’s adult population.

In the United States, more than 62.3 million people are fully vaccinated, roughly 18% of the entire population, according to the Centers for Disease Control. About one-third of the country has gotten at least one dose of a vaccine.

In North Carolina, the percentage of people at least partially vaccinated tracks closely with the state’s overall population percentages by race, according to data made public by the state health department. The numbers have improved since early February, when a county-by-county analysis by The Charlotte Observer found inequities.

The state created a “health equity action network” to increase vaccines to people of color and other historically marginalized populations.

“We are doing everything we can to expand access to vaccinations,” CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky said in a statement.

“Millions of Americans are getting vaccinated every day, but we need to ensure that we are reaching those in the communities hit hardest by this pandemic. This investment will support state and local health departments and community-based organizations as they work on the frontlines to increase vaccine access, acceptance, and uptake.”

Under the Dome

With the start of the new year and a new legislative session, The News & Observer has launched a new Under the Dome podcast. We’re unpacking legislation and issues that matter to keep you updated on what’s happening in North Carolina politics twice a week on Monday and Friday mornings. Check us out here and sign up for our weekly Under the Dome newsletter for more political news.