As Local Governments Try To Fix Vaccine Access Disparities, Community Leaders Question Whether It’s Enough (District of Columbia Housing Authority)

Date Published: 
April 7th, 2021

From DCist:

Significant racial disparities persist in the vaccine rollout across the D.C. region, despite the fact that Black and Brown communities have borne the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic. Now, after months of navigating complex appointment systems and logistical hurdles, public health officials and community-led groups are trying to correct course on a vaccine distribution process that was not designed for the region’s most marginalized residents.


In the District, health officials have advertised what they call “special initiatives,” like a partnership called “Faith in the Vaccine” that brought some vaccines to Black churches in hard-hit neighborhoods, and a door-knocking pilot that has brought volunteers from the Mayor’s office to help Ward 8 seniors register for vaccine appointments. Federally-qualified health centers, which serve largely Black and Latino patients, have also administered the vaccine.

Another of those initiatives is a partnership with the D.C. Housing Authority that brings vaccine clinics directly to senior apartment buildings. It’s the kind of direct, in-person outreach that many Black residents have been asking for.

“We were familiar with our population,” says Housing Authority Executive Director Tyrone Garrett. “When I was [at a vaccine clinic] the other day and there were people that hadn’t come down for a second dose, my managers and the team were calling people out by name.”

That program has vaccinated about 1,500 seniors so far through a partnership with Johns Hopkins. Now, the agency is offering additional vaccine events geared toward residents in Wards 5, 7, and 8. Garrett, the executive director of D.C. Housing Authority, hopes to replicate the success they’ve had among seniors with a broader swath of residents in those wards.

For one of those events, held on Saturday at the Benning Stoddert Recreation Center in Ward 7, the Housing Authority and Johns Hopkins collaborated with other D.C. government agencies to make the event accessible for seniors who live in large apartment buildings nearby. They reached out to affordable housing properties and reached out directly to residents in the neighborhood who receive housing vouchers in the days leading up to the clinic. The Department of Parks and Recreation helped with transportation and the clinic ultimately vaccinated 521 people.

Bertha Broome, a 79-year-old resident of the J.W. King Senior Center in Southeast D.C., was able to register for her vaccine appointment at Benning Stoddert through her building, which also provided transportation to the rec center. She had previously struggled to secure an appointment.

“I had tried on the computer, but it wasn’t too successful,” Broome said.

Eugene Primer, a 75-year-old resident, said he wanted the vaccine “to save [his life].” But he had almost given up on the appointment process.

“I tried it online … every other place I called — you had to stay on the phone for two hours before you can get confirmation, so I said well, the heck with it,” Primer said.

When Primer found out he could get a vaccine at Benning Stoddert on Saturday, he jumped at the opportunity to get on the shuttle his building provided to take residents to the site.

Read DCist's article "As Local Governments Try To Fix Vaccine Access Disparities, Community Leaders Question Whether It’s Enough," featuring the District of Columbia Housing Authority.

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