DENTON — As of Tuesday, Caroline County had vaccinated nearly 20 percent of its population against COVID-19, according to Health Officer Laura Patrick, R.N. Caroline ranks above the state average in getting people 65 and older vaccinated with 59.8% of those having received at least their first dose of vaccine, she said.
The health department had at least seven vaccination clinics scheduled this week, including one at a local church, Patrick told county commissioners at their weekly meeting March 16.
As part of the effort to reach underserved, vulnerable and hard-to-reach populations, including those for whom English is a second language, Janet Fountain and Wanda Mollock, members of the equity committee, have reached out to churches to help spread the word that vaccines are safe and encourage participation, she said. They want to take the vaccine to the people.
In addition to three clinics at fire departments around the county, two at the 4-H Park, and another at the Benedictine School, Greater New Hope Church in Preston was scheduled to host a vaccination clinic from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, where 102 people were registered, Patrick said.
Commissioner Wilbur Levengood encouraged the team to reach out to the Hispanic communities in Marydel. He said two churches there have large Hispanic populations, “I’m sure they’ll throw the doors open and let us use them if we go there.” He added he was sure the fire department would allow the use of the fire hall if needed.
Commissioners’ Chief of Staff Sara Visintainer said the Hispanic community is one where they’ve seen the most vaccine hesitancy and it’s also a young community, so they’ve just started to be eligible based on occupation.
“We are working with Dorchester County and Shore Health to do an onsite clinic at Amick Farms where we know we have a large population of non-English speaking residents — Haitian-, Kreyol-, Spanish-speaking folks — I hope we get good participation from that,” she said.
Visintainer said they are also looking at other businesses that maybe aren’t in the county but that employ a significant number of Caroline residents — nearby egg operations and growing operations.
Many of those people live in the northern end of the county, Levengood said, “They’re the goal because they’re in food production.”
He reiterated the key to reaching the Hispanic population is the churches.
“We need to reach those people through their church … that will bring everybody else on,” Levengood said.
He also expressed concern that the daytime clinics currently being offered aren’t going to work there.
“We’re going to probably start doing evening clinics or weekend clinics,” Vistintainer agreed. “A lot of folks work six days a week. So if they’re working on a Saturday, a Saturday morning doesn’t necessarily make it accessible; we’re going to have to do late afternoon or evening even on a Saturday to reach that community.”
She said the equity committee is working with the Chesapeake Multicultural Resource Center for advice on how to best reach out.
“We’ve also seen a lot of spread in those communities because they live in closer quarters and the housing isn’t always great, so we want to make sure that the folks who are more vulnerable to getting the disease are getting access (to the vaccine) as early as we can get it to them,” Visintainer said.
“I’m seeing those numbers that they’re not getting the vaccinations, and I’m thinking that we’re just not being able to reach them,” Levengood said.
Reaching the Hispanic community and making the vaccine accessible is just one challenge, Visintainer said, “the other challenge is understanding what’s at the core of that vaccine hesitancy and trying to provide more information to speak to those concerns so that folks can feel comfortable making that choice that they want to be vaccinated.”
Caroline Department of Emergency Services Director Anna Sierra reminded everyone that all of the vaccine clinics are pre-registration only.
The best way to be registered is to go online to carolinecovid19.org and fill out the eligibility screening tool to get on the list so the call center can contact you when you’re eligible and when there are slots open for vaccinations, she said.
“The other really important thing is for people to pick up their phones. We have been working really hard out of the call center to get our slots filled with people who have indicated interest ... but unfortunately, they’re having a bit of a challenge getting people to answer the phones,” Sierra said.
“I know we’re all really tired of getting spam calls about our car warranty or from Marriott or from a variety of other places but it might be the call center calling, so do us a favor and pick up.”