MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. — The pillars of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout have been accessibility and equity, ensuring there are a variety of places offering vaccines reaching all communities.
But with the pediatric vaccine, many parents feel most comfortable getting their kids the shots at the already familiar doctor’s office. But at Tuesday’s Mecklenburg County Commissioners meeting, Health Director Gibbie Harris said there are a handful of local pediatricians who are not interested in having the shots in their offices.
She said it’s often because of storage requirements and a difficult state system for reporting vaccinations.
“As far as why are some practices kind of just not ready to do this, I think we have to be honest," Diasio said. "It’s very hard right now. Everybody I know who’s running in practice is running short-staffed, the hospitals are all short-staffed."
There’s plenty of supply and pharmacies and health departments have made their spaces more kid-friendly and are spread throughout the area. At this point, it’s certainly not in every pediatric office, but both Atrium and Novant Health are working to make it available through pediatricians. Novant Health has it available in 20 of their offices so far, with the ability to expand to more if needed. Plus, the county has several partners ensuring accessibility is not an issue.
Doctors say getting as many kids as possible vaccinated is the best way to move forward.
“That’s how we end the pandemic is to get more people protected, reduce the room for the virus to circulate, that is how we win against this virus that has made all of our lives so difficult,” Diasio said.
So far, data shows there is more work to be done with equity in Mecklenburg County.
According to state data, in the last two weeks, more than 9,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been given to 5- to 11-year-olds in Mecklenburg County.
“In terms of the demographics, 59.4% of those have been white, 12.5% of those have been African American, 9.2% have been Asian., and 7.6% have been Hispanic,” Harris said. “And so obviously we continue to have work to do in those populations to ensure we’re vaccinating appropriately.”
It’s a similar trend to when the vaccines first became available to adults, minority groups disproportionately impacted by the virus were not getting protected from it as quickly.
The Camino Health Center works to serve the local Latino population and their research found a lack of trust was the main barrier to Latinos getting the shots. But they’ve found ways around it with adults they think will work with their kids too.
“Ensuring that the vaccine is offered in places that they can access and places that they can trust," Keri Revens, the director of the Camino Research Institute, said. "Those are very important. And then ensuring that you have volunteers or staff that speak Spanish at the actual event."
The county has continued boots-on-the-ground education, Action NC canvassing Black and Latino neighborhoods to give parents the information they need about the kid’s vaccine. Conversation with familiar or similar faces to their own is what’s worked to make hesitant people realize the benefits outweigh the risks.
“The best thing that we can do is make sure the information is out there in a way that everyone can access it and everyone can understand it,” Revens said.
Harris has said as much as they make the vaccine available, they still cannot force everyone to take it.