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Vaccine hesitancy plagues many locals in West Philly. Photo: Pennmedicine.org
Vaccine hesitancy plagues many locals in West Philly. Photo: Pennmedicine.org

The Vaccine Street Team in West Philly is out to dispel vaccine hesitancy by going door-to-door

The effort specifically targets neighborhoods of color, where vaccination rates remain lower than other parts of the city.

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Black residents make up 42% of the city's population, but only 48% have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of July 11, 2021.

Racial disparities in vaccination rates have been talked about throughout the vaccine rollout process, but numbers only tell half the story. The people behind them end up with higher case counts and as a result, higher death rates.

To bring awareness to Black Philly residents, Penn Medicine, Councilmember Jamie Gauthier, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) have joined forces and developed the Vaccine Street Team, a new pilot program based in West Philadelphia.

The program uses a canvassing model approach with volunteers that go door-to-door and talk to residents about the benefits of receiving the vaccine, where to get it, and dispel any other misinformation they may have heard elsewhere.

Volunteers come equipped with the facts, citing statistical information and other important data points that encourage residents to listen and see the information for themselves.

Heather Klusaritz, the director of Community Engagement for Penn’s Center for Public Health Initiatives, believes vaccine hesitancy is the number one reason residents aren't getting vaccinated.

Some don't trust news sources or their government.

“Our traditional ways of getting the word out about vaccines, whether through the news media, social media, or connecting with community and faith-based organizations, were no longer as effective,” Klusaritz said to Community Impact Penn. 

More than 250 people talked with canvassers about feeling hesitant, according to Penn Medicine. That number is big, but volunteers were able to build trust over time.

“It isn’t just about offering a vaccine clinic in the community,” Klusaritz said. “We are at a point where people need to build trust and create opportunities for people to have conversations about their vaccine concerns in order to support vaccine decision making.”

For locals already vaccinated, these conversations between residents and Vaccine Street Team canvassers are also getting the record straight regarding vaccine myths.

Residents can also then tell their family members and friends about the benefits of receiving the jab. As positive news continues to spread, the hope is that more residents in West Philly and in other parts of the city will get on board.

It’s especially important as other variants of COVID-19 continue to emerge, such as the Delta variant. It means it is more important now than ever to protect older citizens, and one of the main reasons the Vaccine Street Team is still knocking on doors and spreading awareness in West Philly.

So far, canvassers visited 9,161 pre-mapped homes and were able to listen and talk about concerns, worries, or fears.

Klusaritz encourages residents to share their stories with canvassers. For them, it is an opportunity to gain insightful information and to speak with someone who is from the same neighborhoods and share similar stories.

“For those who do have deep-seated hesitancy concerns, for the most part they are not one-time conversations,” she said. “Future efforts need to create additional opportunities for conversations with those who have concerns, who aren’t ready to make a decision, and provide information and support until they are ready.”

For more information on the Vaccine Street Team, visit Penn Medicine’s website.

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