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"Creative solutions are required, and those shouldering the burden need to be supported." Photo: Getty Images.
"Creative solutions are required, and those shouldering the burden need to be supported." Photo: Getty Images.

Catching the dip in vaccination rate (OP-ED)

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There have been 28 days during the pandemic when more people died from COVID in the United States than died on September 11. New data being reviewed by the CDC right now would make COVID-19 the deadliest event in U.S. history, which is why vaccines could not have come soon enough.

Months into our mass vaccination strategy, their effectiveness has been unquestionable. Daily case rates in the U.S. have plummeted from a peak of 312,000 on Jan. 8 to under 50,000 and dropping, and daily death counts have stayed below 1,000 since March 12.

As a direct result of this progress, the country is starting to re-open, and we can see glimpses of normality as the summer approaches. Even more importantly, the psychological burden of isolation and fear from being around others is lifting, marking a new chapter.

Despite this incredible progress, vaccination rates are declining too soon.

Mass vaccination clinics sit at partial capacity, signaling the start of an arduous, more challenging phase. We cannot ignore this reality, because while we have moved past the darkest days of winter, still less than half of those over 18 have been fully vaccinated nationwide. Even more alarming, vaccination rates in Black and Brown communities, where the virus has been especially devastating, are even lower.

Creative solutions are required, and those shouldering the burden need to be supported. From our experience on the ground in Philadelphia, these are our recommendations.

Larger vaccination events should be focused on weekends and after working hours. Someone who works over 12 hours a day, six days a week, is not “vaccine hesitant,” they simply cannot afford to take a day off and need Sunday availability.

Especially as mass vaccine sites begin to empty, these events should be held at schools, sanctuaries, churches, and food stores. We have met countless people who go from home, to work, to a safe space, and refuse to go anywhere else. We must go to these places and hold events that do not require online registration, documentation, or insurance.

Additionally, we strongly urge vaccine providers, particularly health systems and large retail pharmacies that can shoulder a financial loss, to not place a demand on minimum vaccination numbers to participate in an event.

Most importantly, when outsiders seek to immunize communities with inherent distrust of “the system,” we recommend humility and listening to community leaders who have been on the ground for many years and who have rightfully earned the trust of their peers.

The All Faith Vaccination Campaign planned for this Memorial Day and Juneteenth at places of worship throughout the city is an example of what we have seen work. In a recent national study, regardless of religious affiliation, 26% of “hesitant” Americans and 8% of “resistant” Americans said that faith-based vaccination campaigns and public health drives would make them more likely to get the shot.

And finally, it is critical to find qualified individuals, ideally medical professionals, who can help address all concerns surrounding the vaccine. A majority of adverse reactions have been linked to panic attacks, a reality best mitigated by providing access to medical professionals who can educate the person prior to vaccination. This includes having those available who are of similar culture and language. There is increased comfort and proven effectiveness when the provider culturally identifies with the target population.

Unidos Contra COVID is a boots on the ground grassroots collective of Hispanic medical professionals driven by a vocational call to action to educate, advocate, support, and lead vaccine efforts in predominantly Spanish-speaking communities within Philadelphia and the surrounding counties. We target smaller pockets of Latinx neighborhoods that have unique needs when it comes to the vaccine.

We believe that this style of vaccination effort will be the key in reaching goal of herd immunity as set forth by the CDC and the Biden administration. Every vaccine now matters and each person makes a difference.

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