State and federal regulators are beginning to step up their efforts to reach groups who haven’t been served. Ten Maryland hospital systems have applied to a recently created state program funded with $12 million raised from patient billing. And local health departments will get the bulk of $54 million allotted to Maryland to help distribute vaccines to underserved populations from the recent COVID relief bill.
Some health departments say there is work to be done before they schedule clinics. National surveys show hesitancy remains a problem, though more so now among rural Republican men than African Americans.
Health workers in conservative Harford County, for example, said they have maintained consistent messaging on social media in an attempt to eliminate the skepticism they say derives from misinformation. Others are relying on church leaders, family doctors and other trusted community leaders to allay concerns about vaccinations or specific vaccines.
Dr. Michael Kiritsy directs a vaccine outreach program for LifeBridge Health, parent of Sinai Hospital in Baltimore. He sends vaccination teams to places identified by local health departments, down to specific apartment buildings, including Bennet’s Bolton North. They vaccinate anywhere from a few to a few hundred people a day — reaching much smaller numbers than the thousands at mass clinics.
Some recipients are without transportation, computers or the wherewithal to get and keep an appointment, while others are unsure they want to be vaccinated and haven’t tried.
“Many of these people certainly would have qualified for vaccination earlier, but they faced a variety of barriers,” Kiritsy said. “We reach out and bring vaccine to them.”
Bolton North apartments
The seniors who live in this apartment building on West Mount Royal Avenue are mostly Black and Korean. Many don’t speak English or drive, and some have health conditions, issues that make it important but difficult to be vaccinated.
Gina Stritch, resident services coordinator, called around for help. LifeBridge Health responded with staff and coolers of the Moderna vaccine for about 100 residents.
A Korean-speaking oncology nurse, Young Kim, volunteered to do the vaccinations because she felt the residents would be more comfortable, especially if they had questions. She gently reassured a nervous Bennet as she plunged a needle into her arm, though Bennet said there was no question of getting vaccinated.