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As COVID-19 vaccine demand dips, community health centers take the lead

Christine Vestal, on

Published in News & Features

Skilled at ground-game strategies, the nation’s more than 1,300 community health centers, which serve more than 30 million patients, already have enlisted local partners to sign up their members for shots at pop-up vaccination sites located within walking distance from where their target populations live and work.

But when that tactic runs its course, likely next month, health centers are preparing to take their campaigns to the streets and rural highways, knocking on doors at public housing complexes, parking mobile clinics outside of grocery stores and sending outreach professionals such as Wohl to find people who haven’t been able to arrange a shot or are on the fence about getting one, Yee said.

In this historic vaccination drive, Yee said, community health centers need to go beyond their patient lists to find people who never have been to a community clinic. Many such newcomers will be young adults in medically underserved neighborhoods who aren’t receiving treatment for chronic conditions and may be ambivalent about getting a COVID-19 vaccine, he said.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hispanic people have the biggest discrepancy in vaccination rates compared with the White population. The next widest gap is in the Black population.

May 4 data from the CDC indicates that 67% of fully vaccinated people are non-Hispanic White people, who represent 61% of the general population.

In contrast, only 10% of fully vaccinated Americans are Hispanic, despite their 17% representation in the general population. Similarly, only 9% of fully vaccinated people are Black, despite their 12% share of the total population. Less than 5% of vaccinated people are non-Hispanic Asians, a group that makes up close to 6% of the population.


“Federal money and community partnerships likely will help reduce existing racial and ethnic vaccination disparities,” said Dr. Lisa Cooper, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Equity and a physician at East Baltimore Health Center.

“But it’s going to take a while, if it ever does catch up,” Cooper said. “I can count on one hand the health care metrics where we’ve actually improved. There’s inequity across all of health care. The question is how much inequity.

“For people who are in care and have chronic diseases, community health centers will help close the gap. But there are a bunch of people of color who don’t have any health care. That’s where barber shops, neighborhood pop-ups and churches will make a difference. Not everyone in a community actually goes to a community health center,” Cooper said.

Former community organizer Wohl shares Cooper’s concerns. “Some people are part of an organization, but a lot of people are ‘bowling alone.’ They don’t have a lot of social capital or connections to a formal organization that could refer them. We don’t want those people left out. They’re still in our community,” he said.


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