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Boots on the ground effort to overcome vaccine hesitancy in Charlotte neighborhoods

Despite some progress, Mecklenburg County health leaders are still trying to overcome persistent disparities in vaccination rates.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In Mecklenburg County, more than half a million people have gotten at least one COVID-19 vaccine. Progress is moving in the right direction, but county leaders are still working to overcome persistent disparities in who is getting the shots.

Black and Latinx communities are lagging in vaccination rates and part of the reason for that is because of hesitancy. County leaders are staying laser focused on finding ways to educate them and dispel any false information they may have heard about COVID-19 vaccinations.

“We have seen improvements as well in our Latinx community and percentage of that population being vaccinated,” Mecklenburg County Health Director Gibbie Harris said. “We still have work to do in our African American community in Mecklenburg County.”

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According to state and county data, nearly 34% of the county's population is Black but of those vaccinated, only 21% are Black. White people make up 58% of the total population in Mecklenburg County and that population makes up nearly 57% of the people vaccinated so far.

“We know we still have a lot of work to do to get these numbers even higher to prevent even further spread of COVID in our community,” Dr. Meg Sullivan, Medical Director for the Mecklenburg County Health Department, said.

Part of the plan to close those gaps is a boots-on-the-ground effort to educate people in neighborhoods with lower vaccine uptake rates.

“All I ask them to do is listen. And it’s your choice if you want to do this or not, but it would be in your best interest,” Lowell Faison, a volunteer with Action NC said.  “I'm kind of convincing!"

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Volunteers with Action NC  have partnered with the Mecklenburg County Health Department to go into Black and Latinx communities several days a week.

“We can't just sit back and be quiet when it comes to public health,” Faison said.

They go into businesses and hand out educational flyers and knock-on doors in these neighborhoods to ask people if they have any questions or hesitations.

“This is a problem that we've got to get cleared up one way or another. Either the African American community is going to get vaccinated and it’s going to get cleared up, or the African American community will be the guinea pig on people that experienced COVID and didn't get treatment,” Robert Dawkins, the Political Director for Action NC, said.

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It's not always a long conversation but slowly and surely, they are helping to change minds, and roll up sleeves.

“On a regular basis they're getting people to leave right then and go get vaccinated but the biggest thing is to clear up misinformation so that people have the actual facts to make their decision," Dawkins said.

Vaccine providers are finding taking the time to listen and have a personal conversation can be the key too.

“Just matter of factly, I’m just providing information, I’m not demanding this person get the vaccine, I’m just saying let’s talk about your concerns and see how we can address those,” Dr. David Priest with Novant Health said of his experiences with patients.

This week Mecklenburg County will join the state's pilot program offering $25 cash cards to people who get their first dose of the vaccine. They’ll also be giving the gift cards to someone who drops off a family member or friend. Harris said a lot of the locations where they’ll be offering the incentives are in neighborhoods with lower vaccination rates.