Philly targeting neighborhoods with low vaccination rates for booster shots

Philadelphia health officials say you can expect a text from the city if you qualify for a booster shot and are in a neighborhood with low vaccination rates.

In this June 11, 2021, file photo, a healthcare worker administrates a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to a student during a vaccination clinic

In this June 11, 2021, file photo, a healthcare worker administrates a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to a student during a vaccination clinic. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

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If you qualify for a booster and are in an underserved neighborhood in Philadelphia, expect a text from the city.

Last week, the CDC recommended certain demographics — including anyone over the age of 65; people living in long-term care facilities and other communal settings like prisons; people with high-risk health conditions; and people with jobs that put them at higher risk for exposure — get a COVID-19 booster. People in these groups who have had two doses of the Pfizer vaccine can get the booster six months after the second dose.

In her weekly COVID-19 briefing Wednesday, Acting Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole said about 10,800 people have gotten a booster shot in the city so far, and the department is working on getting the word out to people who are eligible.

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“We’re focusing our outreach on our least vaccinated neighborhoods because those are the groups that we’re afraid will be least likely to get boosters in the same way that they were least likely to get vaccinated initially,” she said.

People in low-income neighborhoods, which also have the lowest vaccination rates in the city, who are six months out of their final shot can expect a text message reminding them to get a booster.

Vaccine mandate for health care workers

A coronavirus vaccine mandate for Philadelphia health care workers is set to kick in Oct. 15 and health officials are hoping to avoid a worst-case scenario.

Some hospital systems in the U.S. have had to fire or suspend hundreds of workers who ignored state mandates, prompting a fear of staffing shortages in an already strapped system.

Bettigole expressed hopes that the city would have a response similar to New York, where thousands of health care workers got their shots ahead of Monday’s deadline.

“We are at least somewhat reassured by what we’re seeing happen in New York where people are stepping up and getting their vaccines even if they didn’t want to,” said Bettigole. “But most people do, when faced with a mandate, they do get vaccinated.”

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Still, a New York Times report published Tuesday said hospitals were not out of the woods yet with several lawsuits pending. NPR reported health care systems were prepping for potential staffing shortages.

According to Bettigole, most health care institutions in the city are taking the mandate seriously.

Bettigole says the health department can request vaccination records once the mandate kicks in and the department will likely start enforcement in the most high risk settings, such as long-term care facilities.

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