Pennsylvania will hand out $5 million to local organizations working on vaccinating their community members, a bid to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates in areas where acceptance remains low.
Even as the nation’s focus turns to boosters for those already vaccinated, efforts to get first shots in people’s arms are still ongoing and critical, doctors and community leaders said Friday, particularly in Black and brown communities.
Pennsylvania’s vaccination rates put the commonwealth in the best cadre nationwide, but the good statewide numbers — 87% of the eligible population has received at least one dose, and 70% of adults are fully vaccinated — don’t show the low rates in historically underserved or marginalized pockets. Black Pennsylvanians have a lower vaccination rate than white residents, according to state data.
In Philadelphia, 65% of people 12 and up are fully vaccinated, but Black residents have the lowest vaccination rate. As of last week, that included 79% of Asian residents, 60% of Hispanic residents, 59% of white residents, and 49% of Black residents, city data showed.
In some predominantly Black and brown city neighborhoods, including Logan, West Oak Lane, Eastwick, and Olney, fewer than half of residents are vaccinated. In Overbrook, only 37% are, said State Sen. Vincent Hughes (D., Phila.) at a Friday news conference with Gov. Tom Wolf to announce the grant program.
“We are still suffering, although great progress has been made,” Hughes said. “There are communities ... that are severely undervaccinated, and ... [in Philadelphia], clearly, when you look at the numbers, they are majority Black and brown.”
Historic mistrust of the government, particularly when it comes to medicine, in communities of color remains a barrier, along with misinformation about the vaccine frequently spread on social media.
The grant program seeks to boost efforts that scores of local groups statewide are already leading to vaccinate their residents. Organizations can apply for up to $100,000 in grant funding to support vaccination efforts, including community events, advertising, and materials.
The strategy, Wolf said, is to aid local leaders who are already trusted by their communities.
“For communities where hesitancy persists, the best person to talk to about why vaccines are important might not be me,” Wolf said. “We want to get the message out ... in the hands of people that are actually best to spread this message and be listened to.”
He spoke at Mander Playground in Strawberry Mansion, which community leaders have used as a hub for testing, vaccinations, and outreach during the pandemic. On Friday, Twin Sister Docs — Philadelphia physicians and sisters Elana McDonald and Delana Wardlaw — were helping run a vaccine clinic there.
“This is our home, and it is important to us to get the message out to people who look at us,” said McDonald, a pediatrician. “We understand that there is a huge mistrust of the government, of the medical establishment, but we are here to say that we are physicians, we are from your community, we trust medicine, we trust the vaccine.
She added: “The vaccine is safe. The vaccine is effective. The vaccine does not affect your DNA. The vaccine will not affect your fertility.”
State Rep. Amen Brown (D., Phila.) said he, too, had been hesitant to get vaccinated but decided to get the shots to protect his community.
“To all my young people out there, it is OK to get vaccinated. You will not be harmed. The vaccine is here to help you,” Brown said.
Coronavirus and flu shots will be available at Mander Playground from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday.
Organizations can apply for the grants at dced.pa.gov/vogp. The deadline is Nov. 1.
The Philadelphia Inquirer is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push toward economic justice. See all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org.