How does Philly hope to combat the Delta variant?
For the city and its community partners, it is a potential race against the clock to get some neighborhoods fully vaccinated.
As Pennsylvania lifts the restraints caused by COVID-19’s Alpha strain, the Delta variant of the virus still continues to escalate nationwide, making up about 5.3% of COVID cases in the state according to Mark O’Neill, a PA health department spokesman.
This percentage only increases as Pennsylvanians remain unmasked, and some, unvaccinated. In Philadelphia, the rise of the Delta variant represents a race against the clock when it comes to getting neighborhoods vaccinated.
James Garrow, a spokesman for Philadelphia’s Department of Public Health emphasized that “more than 60% of adults in Philadelphia are fully vaccinated,” but as previous COVID protocols become more lenient and cases slowly increase once again, “we continue to stress that everyone who is eligible should get vaccinated as soon as possible.”
Beginning in January 2021, Philadelphia commenced the distribution of vaccines to people with high-risk conditions, adults 65 or older, and essential personnel.
Data from Philadelphia COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Plan highlights that the rate of those being vaccinated in Philadelphia grew exponentially and peaked in mid-April for areas within the city and outside the county. During this time, about 1,182,535 doses were administered to Philadelphians. Since then, vaccination rates have slowed, although Garrow assured, “there are still between 15,000 and 20,000 doses of COVID vaccine being administered every week in Philadelphia.”
For the Latinx community, Garrow cited that for adults over the age of 18, the percentage of Latinos vaccinated is “virtually the same as the percent of whites vaccinated.”
“Latino vaccinations are the fastest-rising group,” he continued.
Where health officials wish to close the vaccination gap is within the city’s Black population. According to city vaccine distribution data, Black Philadelphians are the lowest vaccinated demographic in the city with just 48% of the population receiving one vaccine dose.
Resident data from Congreso de Latinos Unidos concurs.
Julia Rivera, vice president of external affairs & strategic initiatives, noted the initial lack of access and trust that affected communities of color when it came to getting a vaccine.
“This disparity continues with much lower vaccination rates in the Black community,” she said.
It has required the city and its community partners to rethink their vaccine outreach approach.
In efforts to vaccinate the remaining population, specifically Black Philadelphians, a number of organizations, including the Department of Public Health and Congreso de Latinos Unidos are redirecting their clinics towards the underserved communities of Philadelphia.
“Congreso is currently working on a multi-tiered approach to better understand the reasons for vaccine hesitancy in the community that Congreso serves, and to develop targeted outreach to address those concerns directly with our community,” said Rivera.
She also underscored the vitality of organizations, such as Congreso de Latinos Unidos, being located in 19133, “a zipcode with [one of] the lowest vaccination rates across the city.”
It can implement its vaccine promotora program to successfully aid Latinos and other minorities within the area. With surveys from both vaccinated and unvaccinated members of the community, peer-leaders will be trained through the promotora program, working alongside the Department of Public Health, to mobilize vaccinations of adults and youth ages 12 and up.
As the Delta variant becomes more prevalent among unvaccinated communities, it only advances Congreso’s opportunities and programs to administer doses.
“We hope that people who remain unvaccinated may feel more urgency to get vaccinated to keep themselves and their circles safe and healthy,” said Rivera.
One of the Department of Public Health’s newer efforts is its homebound vaccination program, which allows in-home vaccinations.
Garrow also shed light on other efforts from the city to provide immunization. It also started by closing all of its mass vaccination centers to refocus efforts on community and neighborhood vaccination clinics.
“These new types of sites include our vaccine truck, new micro-sites, city-run community sites in collaboration with the Fire Department, and partner clinics,” said Garrow.
Back at Congreso, the vaccination efforts also continue through both walk ups and appointments. To make an appointment, text “vaccine” to 215-914-3755, or call 267-507-7448.
Despite the efforts, both the city and Congreso worry about the lack of urgency from some to get even their first dose of vaccine. It’s a constant uphill battle against distrust and misinformation, but the hope is that as more conversations happen and more connections are made, the Delta variant will not have the impact some are predicting it to have.