Even though the US is ranked 7th in the world for the distribution of vaccines having 48% of its population fully vaccinated, large areas of the country are being run ragged by the new Delta variant. There is also a disparity in vaccine equity among Black and Hispanic communities.
In order to bridge these disparities, experts say that public health leaders need to use a hands-on approach to make vaccines more easily accessible while doing away with the fears of people who are hesitant to take vaccines and misinformation surrounding the vaccine.
A panel of health experts shared their opinions on how these problems can be tackled during a US News & World Report webinar.
Measures The US Can Implement To Buffer Vaccination Rates
Dr. Jose Romero said that Arkansas is the epicenter for the surge in the Delta variant. This particular state has one of the highest numbers of new cases per capita in the country. This is an even bigger problem because it is paired with one of the lowest vaccination rates with only 35% of its population fully vaccinated.
The members of the panel agreed that the cost of the pandemic will be even larger if such a huge portion of citizens do not get jabbed soon. The doctor expressed his concern for the planned reopening of schools keeping in mind that many states have prohibited institutions to mandate the wearing of masks.
He added that last year, there were no significant outbreaks due to the reopening of schools and this was mainly due to social distancing norms and mask mandates.
However, he was of the opinion that this year, there would be a spike in cases due to the combined effect of reopening of schools and prohibition of mask mandates.
The resonating sound from all panelists was that to change the accessibility of vaccines, more needs to be done than just making vaccines available to people.
Julia Ryan, the Vice President of Health Initiatives at LISC said that if one doesn’t have sick leave that is paid for or health insurance and one is concerned about having unexpected health care expenses arising from vaccinations, they need to be considered to be real issues faced by low-income communities.
In addition to the lack of paid leave, transportation barriers also existed while getting a vaccine. Even though 85% of Americans live with 10 miles of a CVS, many still face challenges getting to sites where vaccinations are performed.
Dr. Sonja Huges, the Vice President of strategy and service excellence at Aetna said that in order to push the increased access to vaccines, they have come up with an initiative with Lyft that offers free rides to vaccination sites.
They have also partnered with uber to provide people with rides to vaccination sites specifically targeting those that do not have access to credit cards or smartphones.
According to a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation, even though racial gaps in the rates of vaccination are growing narrower, Black and Hispanic people are yet to receive an equitable share of vaccinations.
The panelists agreed that mobilizing trusted leaders among the community can help with vaccine hesitancy. They are of the opinion that it will be particularly effective in Black communities where there is a general lack of trust towards health care workers due to systemic racism.
The members of the panel also emphasized that health care professionals forming partnerships with local organizations that have been doing grassroots work is supremely important.
Julia Ryan concluded that it took a year of pandemic, 2020, a racial reckoning and a whole economic recession for people to realize that we are all in this together.