Office of Diversity & Equity looks to reach, educate marginalized communities on COVID vaccine

County leaders help with diversity outreach for vaccination program

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - For Linda Thompson, chief of New Hanover County’s Office of Diversity & Equity, the need to connect with communities with a history of discrimination and marginalization over the coronavirus vaccine is one of personal significance.

“I’m a child of the 60s, I remember the challenges of public health, and those concerns that people have had for decades, trusting the government, trusting health systems,” Thompson said.

The county and the state have emphasized from the beginning of the vaccine rollout the importance of reaching historically marginalized communities—communities of color, indigenous people groups, older adults who are home-bound, those facing homelessness, and others.

In New Hanover County, Thompson said, this has meant working with various community organizations to reach the people in those communities on a personal level.

“Working with those community partners, we’ve started a grassroots effort where we’ve actually been calling people individually,” she said, “and we are so happy with the volunteers that are doing this, to churches that are doing this, to the organizations that are doing this and now sending us names and numbers of individuals who just are not able to get through sometimes and get registered.”

That assistance, Thompson said, has been welcomed by many of those they’ve been able to reach.

“I had one lady cry, she said, ‘Oh my God, I’ve been crying. I’ve been trying to get on the line. And and I thought I wasn’t going to be able to get it. Thank you all for doing this and making sure that everybody has access to the vaccine.’”

Thompson said initially, New Hanover County’s number of vaccine recipients from minority communities was low.

“We were concerned about that, and so we’ve now taken the steps to try and get them in the system, so we can get them vaccinated as soon as possible,” she said.

In addition to minority communities, Thompson said they are also working to bridge the gaps in economic disparities by working with the Salvation Army and Good Shepherd Center to make sure those facing homelessness or who may not have access to a phone or internet can still find a spot in line.

They are also addressing those in the community who don’t have access to transportation by taking vaccine appointments directly to them. She said they’ve held one event in downtown Wilmington already, and are planning others.

Still, the supply of the vaccine limits what the office is able to do.

“One of our health leaders said a couple of weeks ago, this is not a sprint, this is going to be a marathon, and it is going to take us months to get this done and to get this taken care of. I ask that our community exercises patience,” Thompson said.

She also asked that anyone who is trained in the medical field to consider volunteering once mass vaccination efforts are possible.

“If you are a retired nurse or if you are a nurse, RN, LPN, if you’re a retired physician, or a doctor who has possibly some spare time, the county [web]site allows you to sign up if you’re interested in becoming a volunteer to help us to vaccinate because as we get into mass vaccination soon, we’re going to need all the help we can get.”

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