A massive effort is under way on a national and local scale to boost vaccine equity, helping groups who are eligible to receive the vaccine but lack the resources to get one.
Project SAVE, also known as Project Scheduling Assistance for Vaccine Equity, is a program that attempts to do exactly that: reach high-risk people who lack access. Epidemiologist Corinne McDaniels-Davidson and her team are advancing the effort even further, specifically narrowing in on those who are not only vulnerable who also lack the tools to secure a vaccine.
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“We're reaching back out to them to help them schedule vaccine appointments, because we know they are at the highest risk,” McDaniels-Davidson said. “Given that they are past close contacts and they live in those hard-hit ZIP codes and they are from those marginalized groups.”
McDaniels-Davidson explained that she and her team are targeting a specific subset of people within vulnerable groups, hoping to backtrack and reach those members who previously had a close contact with someone who contracted COVID-19 and could very well find themselves at risk once again if they don’t get vaccinated. She said troubles with technology compounded with a language barrier make it difficult for these groups to hop online and secure a vaccine slot.
With relentless winter weather around the nation continuing to wreak havoc on vaccine shipments, it’s only added to the difficulties of trying to talk someone into getting a vaccine.
“When we reach out to people and they, maybe, call us back a couple of days later,” McDaniels-Davidson said, “but there's no vaccine because of the weather, it can harm that trust that person had when they reached back out to close the loop and make that vaccine appointment.”
McDaniels-Davidson is a co-lead on Communities Fighting COVID!, a program in which community health workers reach out to people who have had a close contact with someone with COVID-19 and help those individuals to safely quarantine. She pulled on the Rolodex developed from her work there to now help people get vaccinated under Project SAVE. Bryan Perez-Hermosa, who contributes to the project as a community health worker, said persuading people to sign up for the vaccine isn’t as easy as some might think. He said he has to correct a lot of circulating misinformation: Some people assume they’re ineligible due to their immigration status or are skeptical about the vaccine’s efficacy.
“It goes back to the language thing,” Perez-Hermosa said. “They see all this information, like sheets of paper, maybe in English or just simply in a hard language to handle.”
However, Perez-Hermosa said, there’s a great deal of good done in these calls, where people’s first impressions of the vaccine can be corrected and misunderstandings can be addressed.
"Most of the time, every person acts like, 'I've been waiting for this call,' ” Perez-Hermosa said. “ 'Thank you for sharing resources with me. Thank you -- telling and showing you care for me.' "