Kent County organizations are hosting clinics to help with vaccination disparities in underserved communities

Amanda Parrish
Delaware News Journal

It took John Hopkins more than a month to get his COVID-19 vaccine appointment.

Once he qualified to sign up, finding an appointment was difficult and he didn't know where to turn for help.

"It was really hard. Everywhere you call, there was a waiting period," the Magnolia resident said. "I had to figure it out all by myself."

Once more vaccination events starting popping up around Kent County, Hopkins was able to get his first dose of the Moderna vaccine from Westside Family Healthcare at the Modern Maturity Center in Dover.

Magnolia resident John Hopkins receives his first COVID-19 vaccination shot during a vaccine event Thursday, April 1, 2021, at the Modern Maturity Center in Dover.

The event where Hopkins was able to get the vaccine was one of many vaccination clinics around Kent County trying to reach underserved populations.

A Delaware Online/The News Journal analysis done last month found ZIP codes with the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates are often home to people whose median income and education levels are lower than the state average, and also included a higher percentage of Black and Brown residents.

Some of these ZIP codes fall into Kent County, so a group of organizations have come together to help combat this discrepancy.

Several community leaders, organizations and churches in Kent County have formed a coalition to hold vaccination clinics to help underserved populations, including communities of color, get access to the COVID-19 vaccine.

Since March 14, organizations affiliated with the coalition have hosted special clinics to target these populations, holding them at familiar places where the community will see familiar faces. Most have been held in Dover, where the percentage of those fully vaccinated is between 10% to 11%.

In Dover ZIP codes — 19901 and 19904 — 34-35% of the population is Black, but only about 17-19% of those vaccinated have been Black.

Rita Paige, one of the leaders of the coalition, believes having these clinics is the best way to get people vaccinated.

"This is the way we are going to get people vaccinated where people will feel comfortable going," she said. "They are seeing faces that they trust."

SIGN UP:Delaware is expanding COVID-19 vaccinations to everyone 16 and older. How to sign up

People wait to be vaccinated and to make sure they don't experience any harmful effect after taking a COVID-19 vaccine Thursday, April 1, 2021, at the Modern Maturity Center in Dover.

To help curb hesitancy, the coalition has hosted virtual community talks where doctors and Department of Health employees have educated people about what's in the vaccine and why it's safe and important to receive.

While there is some vaccine hesitancy among Black and Latinos, experts say standing structures of inequality have played a key role in why vaccine disparities exist.

State officials have attributed the low vaccination rates in ZIP codes with predominant communities of color to several reasons, particularly the makeup of the beginning phases skewing more white.

VACCINATIONS RATES:A closer look at who’s getting vaccinated in Delaware — and who’s not

Paige said coalition leaders are kept up-to-date on vaccine data from the Department of Health. They meet every two weeks to get a breakdown of vaccination numbers by county and race.

Of the Kent County ZIP codes that have reported data, Camden/Wyoming and Magnolia have the highest percentage of residents vaccinated at 14% and Hartly has the lowest at 7%, as of April 13.

Data for four ZIP codes in Kent County are not available due to the number of doses administered there is too small to report. They consist of areas that have populations of less than 3,500 people but account for more than 2,000 people in total.

Signs point to separate COVID-19 testing and COVID-19 vaccination events Thursday, April 1, 2021, at the Modern Maturity Center in Dover.

So far, Kent County coalition efforts have vaccinated more than 2,500 people in their target populations. Much of this total is coming from Bayhealth clinics. Bayhealth is part of the coalition.

"I have been pleased with the events. I have had time to go to several of them and observe the processes, a lot of volunteers and organizations are assisting, and it's been a great network," Paige said.

One of the biggest parts of the coalition efforts has been weekly vaccination clinics at the Modern Maturity Center every Thursday, which opens its doors to different organizations each week.

"I think that's really great because you have small churches that don't have the capacity to host clinics at their own church and they can come to Modern Maturity Center and host a clinic," Paige said. "We appreciate Modern Maturity for doing this."

MORE:COVID-19 vaccinations are available to Delawareans 16 and older through any provider

Now, Delaware has opened its COVID-19 vaccinations to every resident 16 and older, which started April 6. One day later, Delaware State University – which is also part of the coalition — vaccinated nearly 400 students and staff at its first event.

Some young people, like DSU student Tanaysha Fields, didn't know how they were going to get the vaccine without a targeted clinic like the one at DSU.

"A lot of the students who go to DSU are not from Delaware," she said.

Delaware State University students wait to be vaccinated and to make sure they don't experience any harmful effect after taking a COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday April 7, 2021, at Delaware State University.

With the university hosting about 1,500 residential students, DSU chief risk enterprise officer LaKresha Moultrie said it was important to host an event that would be easily accessible to its students and staff.

"From the beginning, we took the approach of encouraging everyone, but the actual extension of that was to giving the opportunity to make [getting the vaccine] convenient," she said. "We are hoping to get as many students as possible."

Meredith Newman and Jared Whalen contributed to this report.

Is there an issue in Kent County that needs to be addressed or a story that needs telling? Contact Amanda Parrish at aparrish@doverpost.com.