NC to announce a new initiative to improve vaccination equity

Photo: Javier Zaya, Getty Images

The state Department of Health and Human Services is starting an initiative to get more Black, Indigenous, and people of color vaccinated by turning the nonprofit that worked to get people counted in the U.S. Census last year into one that gets COVID-19 vaccines to marginalized communities.

Although the state has emphasized equity in vaccine distribution, Black people, Latinx people, and Native Americans continue to lag in vaccinations.

Healthier Together: Health Equity Action Network, which the state Department of Health and Human Services is scheduled to announce today will have the job of getting information about vaccines and the vaccines themselves into communities.

DHHS officials and Stacey Carless, executive director of the NC Counts Coalition, explained the new effort during a webinar for some of the organizations they hope will be interested in the work.

It will involve large-scale regional campaigns and face-to-face outreach “to connect individuals to vaccine providers and events in locations trusted by and accessible to historically marginalized and BIPOC communities, Carless said.

NC DHHS Deputy Secretary for Health Services Ben Money

There will be a paid staff and grants to community organizations.

Part of the staff’s job will be to connect organizations that have vaccines with community organizations that will host vaccine clinics, she said.

Latinx residents are 9.8% of the state population, but make up only 4.5% of those who have received at least one shot, according to the latest DHHS data. Black residents are 23.1% of the population, but make up 16.9% of those who are at least partially vaccinated, White residents are 71.7% of the population and make up 73.5% of those who have received at least one shot.

“The pandemic has hit communities of color the hardest,” said Ben Money, DHHS deputy secretary for health services. People of color are more likely to have front-line jobs that increase the risk of contracting COVID-19, he said,  and are more likely to have health conditions such as high blood pressure that increase the risk of severe illness.

Language barriers and lack of internet access complicated getting vaccine information out, he said.

“Trusted voices have been critical to the pandemic response,” he said. “We need to give them the flexibility to do the work they have the expertise to do.”

The Healthier Together staff will use data to focus on areas of the greatest need.

“We’re really focused on outcomes,” said Susan Gale Perry, DHHS chief deputy secretary. “It’s important to measure what we want to achieve.”

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