COVID-19 vaccine distribution by ZIP code highlights gaps in access

BySamantha Kummerer and Maggie Green WTVD logo
Tuesday, May 4, 2021
COVID-19 vaccine distribution by ZIP code highlights gaps in access
Data breaking down the allocation of COVID-19 vaccines by North Carolina ZIP codes reveals further inequities to vaccine access within each county.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The ABC11 I-Team obtained data breaking down the allocation of COVID-19 vaccines by North Carolina ZIP codes.

This data is only reported by the state at the county level. The newly obtained data reveals further inequities to vaccine access within each county.

ZIP code 27610 in Wake County received some of the most doses in the state. The ZIP code received close to four doses for every one resident living in the area, a rate 20 times higher than the lowest-performing ZIP codes.

Ryan Jury, Wake County's vaccination branch director, explained that in the beginning, officials used COVID-19 metrics to target ZIP codes such as 27610.

"We use testing data and positivity data as a way of driving our decisions. For that reason, we open two mass vaccination sites here in 27610, because it was a community that was hit hard during the early parts of the pandemic. and we really wanted to change that curve for this community," Jury said.

A large percentage of historically marginalized residents also live in 27610; populations the state has focused on throughout the pandemic.

Other top ZIP codes in central North Carolina include 28304 in Fayetteville, 27577 in Smithfield, and 27704 in Durham.

Unsurprisingly, the ZIP codes reporting the highest number of doses are also home to top vaccination sites such as hospitals and county health departments.

People are able to receive a COVID-19 vaccine outside of the ZIP code they live in so the data doesn't necessarily show variance in vaccination rates but it does reveal gaps in access to care. Health officials said as they move to the second phase of vaccination, closing these gaps will become more important.

"You know, as we move into this next phase, I'm not sure that it's so much about distance, but more so about the ability for it to be convenient or to have multiple touchpoints," Jury said. "We recognize that an individual may need to have two or three or four offerings until they decide to get vaccinated."

WATCH: Extended interview with Wake County's vaccination branch director

ABC11 data journalist Maggie Green spoke with Ryan Jury, Wake County's vaccination branch director, on the data and the strategy the county employs in its vaccination distribution efforts.

Community leaders have already worked to fill some of these existing gaps.

Leaders with the Olive Branch Baptist Church in Wake Forest said they held one of the first mass vaccine clinics in the area in March.

"I knew immediately that this was something that I would want Olive Branch to be a part of; that is part of our legacy, that's part of our history being part of this community," Pastor Larry Wilder said.

The church vaccinated about 500 people and plans to vaccinate another 200 in its second clinic next week.

"I think this community certainly is one that we want to support in any way that we can so having it here, I think, gives members of the residents in the community the opportunity to have a place that's local, that they're familiar with, that maybe they've even utilized in the past," Wilder said. "I think our membership, our congregation is really proud to be that light on a hill, for members of the community."

Strengthening community efforts is one of the areas Jury said Wake County is focused on moving forward.

Jury explained that this next phase of vaccination efforts is about increasing and enhancing vaccination locations.

"We realized that we're gonna have to take the medical model and flip it on its head. And we really need to drive vaccine into communities," Jury explained. "I don't know that we're really focusing on ZIP codes as much as census tract, smaller units of measure, to be able to really identify communities and populations that are vulnerable and at-risk and have lower rates of vaccination."

Jury said the county is working on assembling small, mobile vaccination groups that can drive right into communities to offer "pop up" vaccination sites.