Increase incentives, and go door to door, to reach undervaccinated communities, Pa. lawmakers say

Philadelphians wait in the lobby of the Liacouras Center at Temple University to recieve the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. The 24-hour vaccination event was organized by the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philadelphians wait in the lobby of the Liacouras Center at Temple University to recieve the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. The 24-hour vaccination event was organized by the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Some Pennsylvania lawmakers and health care professionals say the state needs to work with local community groups to push vaccination incentives and education efforts in communities of color with low vaccination rates.

According to state Department of Health data, more than half of eligible Pennsylvanians have received at least one shot in the arm, but once those numbers are broken down by race, some stark disparities begin to show.

Only 20% of African Americans have received one dose of the vaccine, while 7% of Asian and Pacific Islanders have gotten at least one jab.

“Something much more aggressive needs to be done,” said State Sen. Vincent Hughes, “whether it be folks walking the streets instead of mass vaccination sites or increasing the array of incentives that can be utilized for an uptick in vaccinations.”

Dr. Priscilla Mpasi, region chair for the National Medical Association, said it’s important to consider barriers to access when trying to reach undervaccinated groups.

“We have to provide more targeted education, correct information, and information from trusted messengers,” said Mpasi. “We have to provide access. It’s not just letting people in on a website, it’s moving locations to where it is located to them, it’s changing the hours if it’s during the work hours.”

The urgent need to ramp up vaccination in those communities comes as the commonwealth loosens coronavirus restrictions, including mask-wearing requirements, with more than half the state partially protected against the virus.

“My concern is that for these undervaccinated communities, they are now going to be at greater risk again for getting the COVID-19 infection,” said Mpasi.

The state has already launched a $9 million vaccination campaign and has partnered with the Flyers and Gritty to make vaccine public service announcements.

In Ohio — where vaccinated people have a chance at winning $1 million in that state’s “Vax-A-Million” lottery — officials have reported more than 30% increase in those 16 and older getting the shot, according to an AP analysis. Colorado and Oregon are also taking the lottery approach.

This week, the Biden administration released additional guidelines for how states can use American Rescue Plan dollars to fund financial incentives that encourage inoculation.

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