WakeMed's Sister Circle on mission to ramp up access to COVID-19 booster shots

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- It's been a whirlwind year for the "Sister Circle" since ABC11's first story last February. Since the time this group of Black female WakeMed doctors joined forces to close the racial gap in COVID-19 vaccination rates, they have vaccinated more than 7,000 people. More than 14,000 doses into arms. And most of those arms belong to people who live in so-called marginalized communities.

"We're glad that our hard work really has translated into closing the gaps," said Dr. Nerissa Price, a WakeMed psychiatrist and Sister Circle member.

Now, the group is setting its sights on boosting access to booster shots. Saturday at Macedonia New Life and Redeeming Love churches on Rock Quarry Road in southeast Raleigh -- the Sister Circle's health equity strike team is setting up their first COVID-19 booster shot clinics

"We asked these churches to find us your most vulnerable people who otherwise would not be able to get access. And that's who were coming into the community and doing booster doses for because that that would be the need," said Dr. Rasheeda Monroe, a WakeMed pediatrician.

It's a more focused strategy this time around compared to the early vaccine rollout. Access is improved, so the Sister Circle is taking a more laser-like approach. But, it doesn't mean there won't still be hesitancy -- making someone pro-vaccine doesn't necessarily make them pro-booster.

"There's still lots of questions," said Price. "We've been able to really partner with trusted partners in the community, they see me as a brown face and there is some trust there. And then I take the time to have the conversations."

From December 2020 to April 2021, vaccine distribution among Black North Carolinians increased from 9% to 19%; and 4% to 10% among the state's Hispanic population. The state's vaccination gap was erased.

"So that's fantastic," Monroe said.

Happy but not satisfied.

"This is just one small drop in the bucket, not just for vaccinations, but for health inequities and other disparities generally that impact black and brown communities. So there's still plenty of work to be done," she said.

There are 600 boosters to administer Saturday at Macedonia and Redeeming Love. The slots are taken. The Sister Circle's community partners have selected the people who will come.

But part of the goal is for the ones who get their boosters to go back and tell family and friends about it -- helping to normalize the process.
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