Danita Thompson, vice president of the Cedar Grove Neighborhood Association, wasn’t expecting to know so many people by name as they drove through the pop-up vaccination site at their local community center.
The purpose of this event was to reach out to the Black and Latinx communities in the area, Thompson said. The center had 400 spots available, but within one day of announcing the event, they received more calls than spots available.
“The people felt comfortable because they had a face from the community,” Thompson said.
The Orange County Health Department has utilized these pop-up sites, also called open points of dispensing, as a way of reaching historically marginalized communities. This is part of North Carolina’s larger effort to increase racial equity in the distribution of vaccines.
North Carolina collects racial data on vaccinations through the COVID-19 Vaccine Management System, which requires vaccine providers to enter racial data to receive shipments.
North Carolina vaccination data show that statewide, 16.7 percent of the population who have received a vaccination are Black, compared to 23.1 percent of the total population. In Orange County, 21 percent of the population who have received their vaccine are Black, though an estimated 11.8 percent of the total population was Black in 2019.
When North Carolina sends vaccine supplies to local providers every week, a certain number are set aside for events that focus on underserved communities.
Kristin Prelipp, communications manager for the Orange County Health Department, said in an email that a Human Services group meets weekly to determine how these doses are distributed and what barriers need to be eliminated. Events such as the one at Cedar Grove are the result of these meetings, where local community leaders help to distribute vaccinations alongside medical professional volunteers.
Renee Price, chairperson of the Orange County Board of Commissioners, said having people within different communities assist with vaccination efforts has helped to build trust.
“I’m very glad that what we did do was get people within the community to help with the registration,” Price said. “Kind of operationalizing these remote sites. Because it’s much better to have someone you trust as a trusted messenger or someone from your community as an ambassador to get the word out.”
Since vaccinations have become available, Price said the county has been doing everything in its power to continue supporting racial equity.
“We’ve adopted an all-hand-on-deck policy,” Price said. “That, for example, is one reason we’re unable to open up libraries right now, because we’ve got our library staff helping with vaccine dispensation or distribution.”
But Thompson, who ran the vaccination event at Cedar Grove, said they don't think vaccinations in Orange County are as equitable as they could be.
“People tend to think that Chapel Hill and Carrboro make up the bulk of Orange County,” Thompson said. “So the people in Cedar Grove and Hurdle Mills and Efland, those surrounding pockets, are oftentimes left out of the equation unless there’s someone at the table who can advocate for them.”
Thompson cited the lack of access to reliable internet and being less technically equipped as reasons why northern parts of the county are underserved. Because the county has no system to contact people without access to technology, volunteers at the Cedar Grove Community Center had to call them individually, Thompson said.
Price said while she believes the county and other local vaccine providers have done well, there is always room for improvement.
“I think our health department and UNC Health and Piedmont Health, I think they’re doing a great job,” Price said. “But there’s always room for improvement, and some of that’s going to come from the state and federal government to get us more doses.”
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