Sentara Healthcare Collaborates to Provide COVID-19 Vaccines to Underserved Communities

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Provided by Sentara Healthcare

Since the start of the pandemic, COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on Black, Brown and other people of color. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), individuals in these communities are significantly more likely to experience severe illness, require hospitalization or die from COVID-19. These same communities are also more likely to experience other consequences of the pandemic, including income, food and housing insecurity. Still, national and statewide data shows that the majority of vaccines are not going to people in these at-risk communities.

“We know that we need as many people as possible vaccinated as fast as possible, but the data is clear: those most affected by COVID-19 are not being vaccinated proportionately. If we want to keep our communities healthy, it is critical that Black, Brown and other underserved communities get access to the vaccine,” said Iris Lundy, Director of Health Equity for Sentara.

To do that, Sentara is designating a significant portion of the limited weekly doses it receives from local health districts for eligible individuals in minority populations and underserved communities, whether or not they are Sentara patients. Sentara administered 800 doses recently at the Hampton Convention Center; those doses accounted for the vast majority of the system’s allotment for that week.

Vaccine Distribution Model

Due to the Commonwealth of Virginia’s vaccine distribution model to local health departments, Sentara is notified weekly about whether the system will receive vaccines that week for first dose appointments in a given health district. Once Sentara knows how many doses to expect, Lundy’s Health Equity department gets to work, quickly connecting with faith leaders and community organizers to plan a clinic and fill appointments that same week.

Eligible community members from faith groups or community organizations that partner with Sentara are directly contacted and invited to available clinics. If an invited community member does not have access to a computer or cannot sign up for an appointment on their own, Sentara and its partners work to manually enter appointments and assist with filling out any necessary forms. In some cases, Sentara’s community partners may provide transportation to the vaccination sites.

“We are being intentional about how we assist our communities and help eliminate barriers to access a COVID-19 vaccine, especially for Phase 1b-eligible individuals which includes older people who may not have the ability or resources to sign up online or may not be able to drive themselves to a clinic,” Lundy said.

Phase 1b

Phase 1b, as defined by the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), includes frontline essential workers, people age 65+, people age 16 to 64 with an underlying medical condition and people who live in correctional facilities, homeless shelters or migrant labor camps. Sentara offered appointments to individuals 65 and older or Phase 1a healthcare personnel at the Hampton clinic.

Sentara is grateful to the community and faith-based leaders who are playing an integral part in coordinating vaccine appointments for the most vulnerable among us. Creating these opportunities in the communities is crucial to end the pandemic as soon as possible and improve health every day beyond COVID-19.

Sentara will provide vaccinations to underserved community members in all regions if and when the system receives vaccine allocations from the respective health districts.

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