COVID-19 vaccination efforts turn to underserved

Community health centers are leading the way


With Arizona months into its COVID-19 vaccination efforts, demand seems to be leveling off with supply and the focus is turning toward community health organizations to reach underserved populations.

The Arizona Department of Health Services has continued a steady rollout of state-run vaccination sites, with the latest one opening at WestWorld in Scottsdale. Vaccines also are easier to access than ever, thanks to last week’s announcement that health care providers and doctor’s offices registered with ADHS can now administer doses on their own. Pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens have also stepped in to help the cause.

“Demand for vaccination has slowed as of late, suggesting that supply is coming closer to demand,” said Steve Elliott, spokesman for ADHS. “For added convenience, ADHS no longer requires appointments at state vaccination sites. ADHS is complementing efforts by Maricopa County, including community-based pop-up clinics, with an intensive outreach effort in underserved areas, including portions of south and southwest Phoenix, Mesa and Yuma County.”

State-run sites are continuing to vaccinate thousands of Arizonans on a daily basis, even with other options on the table. Still, low-income neighborhoods are not equally represented in the state’s vaccine data, which also shows a lagging a vaccines given to those who are Black, Hispanic or Asian.
As of Monday evening, more than 2,959,374 people have received at least one dose in the state, meaning that 41.2% of the population is vaccinated. Approximately 2,329,956 Arizonans are fully vaccinated against the virus.

Of those who have received at least one dose, nearly 48.1% are white while just 12.9% identify as Hispanic or Latino, despite making up 29% of the state’s population. The data show 3.7% are Asian or Pacific Islander and 2.3% are Black of those who haver received at least one dose.

ommunity health organizations across the Valley and state are stepping in to help even out the disproportionate data. The city of Phoenix is conducting COVID-19 testing blitzes and sending its mobile testing vans into the community. The city also has held a number of pop-up vaccination sites in areas where it’s needed.

Mr. Elliott said “there is a great deal of progress being made” in reaching a wider group in the Valley through efforts of the Maricopa County Department of Health.

Barbara Harding, senior vice president of ambulatory services for Valleywise Health, agreed with Mr. Elliott that demand for vaccines seems to be leveling off. Valleywise has offered vaccines at no cost to patients at its 11 community centers across Maricopa County, including clinics in Mesa, Chandler, Avondale, south and central Phoenix, and Peoria since the rollout began.

“Because our health centers are conveniently located in these communities, we are reaching out to partners, such as cities and school districts to work with us to help increase vaccination rates,” said Ms. Harding of the health care organizations efforts to reach underserved populations. “We also plan to have mass vaccination clinics for these neighborhoods. We also will be having a vaccination clinic for our refugee populations that we serve through Valleywise Health’s refugee services for children and adults.”

Valleywise has reached these groups through social media, phone trees and direct patient communications at its health centers, which offer medical services for adults and children, as well as imaging labs, OB-GYN and pharmacy services.

Reaching people in the communities where they live and work has made it easier for Valleywise to spread the word about the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines to people who might be more hesitant to receive one.

“There remains a lot of hesitancy among many members of the community, including refugees,” said Ms. Harding. “We are working to dispel rumors and ensure that we address all concerns about the vaccines in an effort to increase vaccination rates. One of our pediatric refugee physicians, Dr. Michael Do, is creating videos for refugees in their native languages about the COVID-19 vaccine to help address these concerns.”

Ms. Harding said the organization received nearly $17 million in federal American Recovery and Investment Act funds to help combat the pandemic and distribute the vaccine. The extra funding is a benefit to Valleywise’s community health centers — a “lifeline” for the community during an uncertain time.

“Valleywise Health’s community health centers play a key role in maintaining the health and well-being of our community,” said Ms. Harding.

“During the pandemic, they have served as a lifeline to our patients concerned about COVID19 and their safety. Our community health centers have remained open during the pandemic for individuals who need in-person care, and we have dramatically increased telehealth services to continue care for our patients who do not feel comfortable coming into one of our facilities.”