Tackling the Vaccine Hurdle in Greater Atlanta
By Ebony Johnson, Director of Place-based Initiatives at United Way of Greater Atlanta
When United Way of Greater Atlanta was asked to lead a COVID-19 testing (and now vaccine) strategy as part of a national effort, there was little known of how the community would respond. We certainly knew to do this work, we would need the help of trusted partners to assist with engagement and outreach – and ultimately to be a bridge to access.
Across Greater Atlanta, more than 45 percent (2,721,291 individuals) have received at least one dose, and approximately 41 percent (2,448,248) are fully vaccinated. And although progress is steady, hesitancy and disinterest are common themes we encounter – we are seeing that beliefs, historical distrust in the healthcare system, and economic circumstances are leading factors to vaccine resistance.
In predominately African American, Latin X, and other underserved communities, we are seeing that COVID-19 test positive rates are nearly double that of affluent communities. These are also communities where vaccination rates are low. Additionally, we are seeing the health disparity gap widen, particularly for those managing chronic conditions like hypertension, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and heart disease. There are other contributing factors: technology has played a significant role in how communities access information. For many underserved areas, access to reliable internet service is a challenge. Also, a large percentage of residents in communities of color are front-line or shift workers, which presents a barrier to access – if vaccine sites are operating during traditional work hours.
The Choose Health Life Initiative centers partnerships with faith leaders, Black and Latin-X led community-based agencies, and federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) to advance equitable access to testing and vaccines within the City of Atlanta, and communities in Clayton, South DeKalb, and South Fulton counties. The initiative utilizes a community health worker (CHW) model to deliver health education and supports in hopes to reverse opinions about seeking out health care, as the nature of the pandemic is ever-changing.
To date, the Choose Healthy Life Initiative in Atlanta has helped more than 4,000 individuals receive COVID-19 testing and vaccinations. In the coming months, we will continue to expand our partnerships in communities to promote education, outreach, and access to health services. We are so grateful for the work of partners like Black Child Development Institute in Atlanta have done to recruit, train and support faith partners throughout this initiative. We are also very proud of the work our health navigators are doing to help improve the lives of people of color in underserved communities.
Together, we are tackling the vaccine hurdle in Greater Atlanta – one Brighter Future community at a time. For more information on the Choose Healthy Life Initiative, go to https://www.choosehealthylifeatl.org.