Local News

Community health centers could play big role in vaccinating 'hard to reach' populations

Posted February 12, 2021 5:21 p.m. EST
Updated February 12, 2021 6:59 p.m. EST

President Biden is taking additional steps to speed up COVID-19 vaccinations across the country.

The president announced the launch of the Federally Qualified Health Center Program that will provide more vaccines to community health centers to reach undeserved communities.

So far, North Carolina is not a part of the initial roll out.

Lincoln Community Health Center, in a critical part of Durham, faces a huge demand with little supply.

At 1301 Fayetteville St., it’s near the most vulnerable population and many people living at or below the poverty line. The small facility is giving 300 doses weekly, but it could play a huge role in getting more vaccines out if only it had those federal resources.

"It’s time to ramp it up,” said Lanette Wilson, the vaccine coordinator at Lincoln Health.

To date, the center has vaccinated 975 people.

The health center is doing all it can to make the vaccine more accessible. “It’s been challenging, but doable,” Wilson said.

“65% of the vaccines that we’ve administered has been to our Black community. The Hispanic portion has been about 5%,” said Justin Richardson, a pediatric nurse manager.

“We know that they’re pretty under-represented in our 65-and-up category, so we expect that to markedly increase as we continue to vaccinate that population,” he added.

“We are exhausting all of our inventory,” said Wilson.

The center is currently only vaccinating their patients instead of inviting in anyone eligible from the community. That's where federal help would go a long way.

Starting next week, COVID-19 vaccines will be going directly to selected community health centers, a number expected to reach 250 nationwide in the coming weeks.

The goal is to eventually reach centers in every state, but there are no North Carolina centers on the list, yet.

“But we’re hopeful. It’s really necessary for us to be able to have these opportunities,” Wilson said.

In the meantime, the NDHHS said it’s building partnerships to help meet those disparities.

“As we allocate the vaccines to our counties, we’re already giving more to those that serve African-American, Hispanic, LatinX communities," said Dr. Mandy Cohen, state secretary of health and human services. "We’re also thinking about targeting a few special events for our vaccine."

There are more than 1,300 community health centers across the country. This is just the first phase of the program. The staff at Lincoln Health is still hopeful that they will receive that federal support in the near future.

Roughly 85 community health centers in North Carolina are getting vaccines allocated to them by the state as of this week. None are getting very many. Lincoln Health’s allotment of 300 is one of the larger ones, though there are a couple centers receiving 400 to 500 vaccine allocations per week.

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