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'It's a public health imperative' | National month of action aimed at getting more people vaccinated

From the White House down to the Mecklenburg County Health Department, there's a focus on equity and vaccine education and outreach.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — There is a nationwide initiative to mobilize local governments, community and faith-based groups, businesses and all citizens to work together to get 70% of U.S. adults vaccinated by the Fourth of July. There’s a strong focus on equity, and those efforts continue on a local level.

The main goal from the White House all the way down to the Mecklenburg County Health Department has been making the shots accessible. It’s one piece of the puzzle to make vaccination rates go up.

President Biden has set an ambitious goal to get a large majority of the adult population protected from COVID-19, in order to return to “normal” by Independence Day.

“We have to do it. It's a public health imperative,” Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, the chair of the White House COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, told WCNC Charlotte.

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The task force is focused on removing the barriers that keep people from getting vaccinated and this week, President Biden rolled out an aggressive action plan.

Uber and Lyft are offering free rides to and from clinics until the fourth and business owners can get federal tax credits to give employees paid time off to go to a vaccine appointment.

There are free childcare options too.

“Bright Horizons, YMCA, KinderCare, the Learning Care Group are offering get free childcare to get vaccinated or to recover from any mild side effects,” Nunez-Smith said.

On a local level, at certain vaccination events this week, the Mecklenburg County Health Department is offering $25 cash cards to those who get the first dose, meant to help cover some of those costs. And more incentives could be coming.

But education and outreach remain a priority, especially in historically hesitant communities.

“It’s just so key that we return to the science on this every time. We're hopeful and we're optimistic, cases and deaths are down,” Nunez-Smith said. “But at this moment we're going to determine our future. We know that people who are unvaccinated are still at high risk."

The county also trying to set up vaccination sites where people already are gathering to make it easy and convenient.

Black Food Truck Friday in Southwest Charlotte is all about spending time together.

“It’s an opportunity for the community to come out and support Black-owned businesses," Cathay Dawkins, the founder of Black Food Truck Friday, said.

Health leaders hoping that sense of community and trust will encourage people to take advantage of the vaccines on site.

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“There’s a stigma around vaccines so the more access we provide, the more awareness we provide the more successful it will be getting people vaccinated,” Dawkins said

Black people have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and data shows that there are gaps in vaccine uptake within that community.

National efforts also include "shots at the shops,” where Black-owned barbershops and beauty salons will engage in local efforts and be a source of information for their clients.

“I just like to be a resource. Sometimes it’s hard to find a trusted resource online. Is it true, is it fake, is it real, is it not,” Season Bennett, a barbershop owner, said. “I think it’s great for the community in a place where people feel safe."

Experts believe everyone plays a role in getting our country and communities back on track.

“This is a moment we need to reckon with and address the injustices that have been deep in sciences and in medicine and in health. And at this moment, we all need to take advantage of this scientific discovery,” Nunez-Smith said.

On Saturday, the Health Department will have the $25 cash cards at the Movement School on Central Avenue from noon to 4 p.m. On Monday, they’ll be at MEDIC Headquarters on Wilkinson Boulevard from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Contact Chloe Leshner at cleshner@wcnc.com and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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