Advocacy groups continue outreach as vaccine eligibility expands

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Beginning Wednesday, all frontline essential workers are eligible to get a vaccine thanks to Gov. Roy Cooper announcing that the state was moving up the timeline by one week.

The move was spurred by increasing vaccine supply, including the addition of the single-dose Johnson and Johnson version, which received FDA Emergency Use Authorization during the weekend.

The expanded list of those now eligible for vaccines includes workers in critical manufacturing, education (including college instructors), essential goods, food and agriculture, government and community services, health care and public health, public safety, and transportation.

"We've heard so much from folks in these industries of the fear of getting COVID, but also their worries about the vaccine," said Veronica Aguilar, with the advocacy group El Pueblo, which is conducting outreach within Hispanic communities.

Despite making up about 10% of the state's population, Hispanics have received fewer than 3% of vaccinations. Part of that is because they are a younger demographic, but now that more people are eligible, there is increased attention on ensuring they register.

"A lot of the work that we're doing right now is making sure folks are informed of who's involved in Group 3, of how they can get signed up to take the vaccine. And a lot of the work we had been doing previously to (this announcement), is making sure people are informed and any misinformation about what the vaccine is, what it does, is combatted," Aguilar said.

Kate Woomer-Deters, a staff attorney with the North Carolina Justice Center said language barriers are just one of the challenges faced.

"Among the immigrant population, in particular, we need to do more in terms of language access, in terms of addressing people's fears about accessing the healthcare system, sharing their personal information, and other things that might cause people to distrust getting the vaccine," Woomer-Deters said.

The organization has released fliers in several languages to make sure people are aware of the process. Though the expansion allows people to schedule appointments, finding time to do so can be difficult.

"We see people working long hours in these essential frontline worker positions that might feel that they can't take time off to access the vaccine, make an appointment through some of these difficult online systems," Woomer-Deters said. "So we're trying to spread the word about those disparities. We're working with (NC)DHHS to make sure that they're aware of these issues, and they are (aware)."

While vaccination rates in the state's Black community have steadily improved, they still lag behind the overall population make-up - 16% of vaccinations vs. about 22% of the state's population.

"The black and brown communities have been hit disproportionately economically because of the COVID-19 pandemic. So, if we can get out there, and get the frontline workers vaccinated, they can take care of those people who are coming in," said Gerald Givens Jr., the president of the Raleigh-Apex chapter of the NAACP.

The chapter hosts monthly webinars to educate people about the vaccine.

"We have got to be engaged in this. Yes, there's good reason because of things that have happened in the past where African-Americans were targeted and mistreated in the medical community. We know those things exist. But we're encouraging everybody to get out here - this vaccine, an African woman helped create this vaccine," Givens Jr. said, alluding to Hillsborough native Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett.

Expanded eligibility has led to an increase in sign-ups.

Cumberland County's Public Health Department told ABC11 that it has seen more sign-ups, though it still had available appointments for Friday as of Wednesday morning. That's not the case for Orange County's Health Department, which experienced high-call volume, and is booked for the week. UNC Health said it has seen a "surge in interest," but added that it remains appointment-only. WakeMed also reported increased interest

A Wake County spokesperson said they had 6,000 people in the first few hours of opening to all Group 3 people Tuesday afternoon and were able to "invite 3,000 of them last night to make appointment."

As of Wednesday afternoon, there were about 10,000 people holding for appointments on the county's wait list.

Durham County Public Health Department posted on its website that "due to limited supply, vaccine scheduling is currently paused for the public until further notice." However, there are still appointments available at a state-sponsored event in Durham on Thursday. Like UNC Health, Duke Health is by appointment only, with a spokesperson telling ABC11 that it is working off a wait-list so newly-eligible people likely will not be vaccinated immediately.

The vaccine is free, and you do not need health insurance or an established relationship with a provider to get a shot.

The nonprofit, La Semilla, is hosting a vaccination clinic Thursday evening in Durham in collaboration with the Durham County Department of Public Health, Duke Health, Latin-19, and Greenlight. The event focuses on essential workers who are Latino and qualify under Group 3, but is also open for those qualifying under Group 1 and 2.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has severely affected the Hispanic/Latinx community in North Carolina," said a news release from the organization, La Semilla. "One of the key factors that has contributed to this reality is the fact that Hispanic/Latinx workers are essential to North Carolina's workforce. While sustaining North Carolina's workforce, Hispanic/Latinx frontline essential workers have been at high risk of contracting COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic."

You need to pre-register by calling: 919-308-4965.

The clinic is going on from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at Asbury United Methodist Church, 805 Clarendon Street, Durham. Personal protective equipment kits and food boxes will also be distributed to families of those who receive the vaccine.

El Centro Hispano is hosting a clinic targeting members of the Latino community who qualify under Groups 1 through 3 on Saturday from 3 to 5 p.m. at UNC RR Lot (parking lot), 1071 Estes Dr, Chapel Hill, NC 27516 3. It's in collaboration with the Orange County Health Department. You need to make an appointment for this event.

Call: 919 283-9108
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