DOVER — In an effort to reach underserved populations with the COVID-19 vaccine, vaccination clinics were held last week in targeted senior facilities in Kent County and Sussex County, as well as high-rise apartment complexes in Wilmington.
State officials, with help from the federal government, also provided an increased supply to pharmacies, hospitals and Federally Qualified Health Centers in these areas.
Gov. John Carney said he’s taking a simplistic view of how Delaware’s vaccine distribution statistics should end up looking.
“It ought to look like our state,” Gov. Carney said at the state’s COVID-19 briefing earlier this week. “It ought to reflect the population of our state.”
“This is a scarce public good,” Gov. Carney added. “A life-saving vaccine that needs to be delivered in a way that’s fast and fair. That’s what our objective is going to be.”
Beebe Healthcare hosted one of these clinics Saturday in Rehoboth Beach, thanks to many local partners and churches. Since vaccine distribution began, Beebe has partnered with several community organizations to reach these targeted communities. Its largest event was on Jan. 31 when it partnered with First State Community Action Agency and La Esperanza to vaccinate close to 300 community members in Georgetown.
“Helping underserved populations makes a big difference in improving the health of our entire community — we shop at the same stores, eat at the same restaurants and our kids go to the same schools,” said Dr. David A. Tam, President and CEO of Beebe Healthcare. “Beebe Healthcare’s mission is to improve the health of all who live, work and visit in Sussex County because we’re all in this together.”
As of Friday at 11:59 p.m., a majority of those who have received a dose of the vaccine have been White with 80,736 doses received — 57% of the total doses administered. Another 30,470 doses administered have been reported as an “Unknown” race in the Delaware Division of Public Health’s vaccine tracker — 22% of the overall total.
Gov. Carney recently issued an emergency order to combat the issue of unknown race data. The order requires vaccination providers to report complete demographic information to DelVAX, the state’s immunization information system, within 24 hours of administering a vaccine. Failure to comply with these data reporting requirements may result in fines for providers and reductions in vaccine allocation.
The distribution numbers in the Black community have increased slightly over the last week and a half. It was under 5% of the overall total but is now up to 7% with 10,362 doses of the 140,965 total administered.
Asian/Pacific Islander (3,225) and Hispanic/Latino (2,959) each have received 2% of the total doses. According to the DPH’s vaccine tracker, the demographic of “Another/Multiple” races has been administered 13,213 doses (9%).
Two new programs by the federal government were announced last week to address the racial disparity of vaccine distribution. One is targeting pharmacies in underserved areas. Delaware is giving additional doses to Walgreens in specific ZIP codes in accordance with this guidance, while the other is an increased allotment to FQHCs in these areas, something Gov. Carney said the state was already doing.
“Both of those efforts in my view are targeted toward getting a more equitable distribution,” Gov. Carney said.
The DPH is currently running vaccine clinics in Wilmington high-rise complexes. These started on Feb. 4 and are scheduled to continue to this upcoming Tuesday.
It also partnered with Bayhealth for clinics at senior centers in underserved areas of Kent County, which began Thursday and will last for a week.
“As a regional healthcare leader, Bayhealth is committed to providing doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to our community whenever supply from our state and federal partners allows,” said Michael Metzing, Bayhealth’s Vice President of Corporate Support Services, in a statement. “Fundamental to our mission as a local not-for-profit health system, ensuring the safety and well-being of our neighbors is a top priority. To date, we’ve held several weekend clinics to vaccinate community members. So far, we’ve administered more than 1,400 doses to individuals from our community who meet the 1A and 1B criteria. We are also working closely with local community leaders to help identify underserved and minority community members to make sure they have access to the vaccine if they choose.”
Both Gov. Carney and Beebe’s Dr. Tam reflected on the experience with ensuring adequate COVID-19 testing was in all communities last year, hoping the vaccine distribution could follow a similar model.
“There wasn’t an accessibility to testing in certain lower-income, minority communities in our state,” Gov. Carney said. “If you look on our data dashboard now, you’ll see that the rate of testing among those populations is at a higher level than the Caucasian population in our state, meaning our outreach and our response to that legitimate concern addressed the issues on the testing side.”
“Beebe Healthcare is proud to serve all communities in Sussex County,” said Dr. Tam in a statement. “We know there are health disparities across Delaware, and we’re committed to closing that gap by partnering with many organizations to ensure no one is left behind. When a COVID-19 hotspot developed in Georgetown in April 2020, a comprehensive group quickly collaborated to educate, provide testing, and stop the spread of the virus. Now, with the state’s guidance, our focus is on providing the vaccine to everyone who meets the phase 1A and 1B criteria, including utilizing community partners to ensure those who may face barriers such as language, disability, transportation, housing situation or internet access have equitable access to the vaccine.”
For the issue of vaccine hesitancy, Dr. Karyl Rattay, DPH director, said the DPH has reached out to community leaders to help provide all the information regarding the vaccine’s safety and potential side effects.
They have also helped the DPH set up clinics within these underserved communities.
“It’s so important to the work we’re doing,” Dr. Rattay said. “To make sure that for those who it’s harder to access vaccine, that we meet them where they are.”