Public health officials increase community outreach, minimize barriers as vaccine supply increases

COVID-19 Vaccine

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – As more vaccines become available, public health officials say they’re working to address hesitations and questions people have so they can get a shot in their arm.

Officials say they’ve seen a small dip in the number of people registering for vaccines, even as more cities and counties move into Phase 2 of vaccine administration.

10 On Your Side spoke with local health officials and FEMA coordinators to understand their outreach efforts in Hampton Roads communities.

Recognizing and removing barriers

Public health officials say there are three main areas they want to address to increase vaccinations: address misinformation, implement smaller community vaccination sites and use trusted community voices to get people vaccinated.

Tim Smith, the FEMA Site Lead at Military Circle, says they want to start by addressing any questions people have so they can get a shot in their arm.

“It’s a scientific explanation a lot of times on why it’s good to get it, but you need to put that in English,” he said. “And so sometimes you just need to hear that.”

Since Phase 1 started, officials also recognized the barrier online registrations presented.

“And we want to remove that barrier,” said Smith. “So we offered walk-up vaccinations to remove it and to make it easier for Hampton Roads to get vaccinated.”

With a walk-in option, coordinators say their next step is to bring that option to smaller locations within the community.

Dr. Parham Jaberi is the Norfolk and Virginia Beach Acting Local Health Director. He says

Walk-in appointments will also eliminate any transportation barriers.

“We realized individuals aren’t always able to come during the work day to the site,” he said. “I mean, they may not feel comfortable in a large city site like this and prefer something in their own community so we’re working through that angle.”

Even with a small dip in registrations, however, the FEMA site at Military Circle says they’re still continuing to vaccinate at least 1,000 people a day.

‘We gotta get the message out, right?’

Many local health departments say they’re resorting to tried and true methods of outreach, like going door-to-door to meet with people.

“We gotta get the message out, right,” said Jaberi.

Before getting people that life-saving shot, they’re hitting the pavement and doing everything they can to dispel any misinformation about the vaccines and meeting people in their own backyards.

“We’re literally knocking on doors, going to community centers, going to recreation centers and we’re really trying to identify community individuals who are trusted and can be our messengers within the community,” said Jaberi.  

In Chesapeake, the health department has more than 50 different partnerships to spread the word about where and when to get vaccinated.

Jerry Tucker from the Chesapeake Health Department says one partnership is even helping bring people to their appointments.

“We’ve also partnered with Hampton Roads Transit to get free transportation vouchers or passes for those that may have transportation needs to take them to and from our vaccination sites,” he said.

As Chesapeake moves to Phase 2, public health officials say they’re focusing their outreach on underserved communities and home-bound patients.

“This is a population that we want to make sure that we appropriately engage because they may not have all the capabilities that the rest of the population have,” he said.

Chesapeake also created a call center for people who may not have internet access to schedule a vaccine appointment.

Overall, officials believe the key to reaching herd immunity is with those hyperlocal vaccination sites they’re developing right now.

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