When it comes to COVID-19 vaccinations, both Guilford County and the State of North Carolina are making every effort to see that minority and marginalized populations don’t get left out of the picture. 

They’re doing so with targeted outreach programs and information campaigns meant to make sure that minorities both have equal access to the vaccine and have confidence in its safety.

When the Guilford County Department of Public Health first began offering vaccinations, there was only a phone number to call – there was no online registration for appointments.  That was because county officials were concerned that members of minority communities might be less likely to register online.

 Very quickly, county officials decided to offer online registration as well – though they’ve been working through black churches, phone outreach and using other methods to make sure there’s a good deal of diversity in the group getting vaccines.

At the state level as well, that’s been a priority.  Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Skip Alston said that the state has been very focused on making sure minorities have access to the vaccine.  Alston added that about 38 percent of the vaccines in Guilford County are going to minorities, which, he said, is much higher than the percentage statewide.

State officials have also been concerned that those in marginalized communities may be less trusting of the vaccines and therefore less willing to get vaccinated.  In response to those concerns, the NC Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) has been partnering with NC Central University.  A study conducted through that partnership found that  communication about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 – coupled with access to COVID-19 vaccination sites in those communities  –  could “significantly reduce vaccine hesitancy among historically marginalized people.”

In that project, researchers used in-person and paper surveys to reach people who are often overlooked when only relying on phones and the internet for interviews.  

The state is currently shaping its vaccine communications and distribution strategy based on information found in the surveys.

Since August 2020, a team from NC Central University has conducted the surveys in communities described as “underserved.“  The majority of respondents were African Americans, Latinos, American Indians or members of other historically marginalized groups.

According to a press release from the state, overall, 62 percent of people in those groups are now willing to take the vaccine –  which is much higher than the number last fall, when only 27 percent indicated a willingness to take the vaccine when it became available.

State officials point out that confidence is still lower in historically marginalized groups than in the general population.  For instance, only 50 percent of American Indian respondents were willing to take the vaccine, versus 58 percent of Latinos and 63 percent of African Americans.

 The hesitancy against getting vaccinated was lowest among whites – with 78 percent of that group stating they would agree to take the vaccine.

NCDHHS Deputy Secretary for Health Services Ben Money stated in a press release that the research gathered by the joint project with NCCU “has already informed our outreach to historically marginalized communities and intensified our commitment to supporting more community partnerships for local vaccination sites, providing free transportation and focusing additional resources where there is the most hesitancy.”