SHARON – As of April 13, all Pennsylvania residents ages 16 and older are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine under the PA Department of Health’s vaccine rollout plan. Although concerns regarding vaccine hesitancy are prevalent, experts also suggest that disparities in vaccination rates are, in part, due to the lack of accessible scheduling; this adversely affects underserved and minority populations.
To address these obstacles, Buhl Regional Health Foundation and the Primary Health Network worked to create a COVID-19 Health Equity Team. The objectives include: creating tools to provide comprehensive information on vaccine supply; identifying potential challenges and proactively planning for ways to mitigate likely disparities; identifying people who wish to be vaccinated but lack the means to do so; and connecting residents, in an equitable way, to vaccinations.
The initiative was developed through a series of meetings with hospital CEOs, state and county officials.
“We were hearing about the inability people are experiencing to access a vaccine, BRHF determined the need to create a countywide program to ensure equitable vaccination,” said Jennifer Barborak, the health foundation’s executive director. The foundation developed the idea of a coordinator position with support staff to serve as a COVID health equity team devoted to the equitable vaccination of the people in Mercer County.
“Federally Qualified Health Centers are already positioned as a leader in public health and addressing health disparities; so, we asked BRHF board member Dr. Garrow, chief medical officer at Primary Health Network, to partner to create this team,” Barborak said.
Buhl Regional Health Foundation has committed up to $100,000 of seed money.
The team, led by Tracy Schliep, is working under a small steering committee that includes PHN, county EMS and the health foundation.
“My decision to join this team was to use my passions to make a difference,” Schliep said. “Our team is keeping equity at the forefront of our pandemic response by identifying some of our hardest-hit communities, to educate and connect them to vaccination services.”
Within the next week an advisory board of community agencies will meet to provide additional information and direction. The COVID Health Equity Team is setting up vaccine registration events in the community and will help identify vaccine hesitancy issues. The team will work to further educate the community about the benefits of vaccination, helping to dispel myths.
For more information about the COVID-19 vaccine and to learn to learn more on the COVID Equity Team, call 724-977-3231.