Updated at 7:46 p.m.
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The city’s Health Center 5 administered COVID-19 vaccines for the first time Wednesday to its patients who are over 75 or have high-risk medical conditions.
City officials say the vaccination event at the federally qualified health center in North Philadelphia is part of an effort to reach communities of color.
“I’m glad we’re opening this up in the neighborhood, because this is the most impacted community in the city. And in the country, communities of color need to be able to have significant access, they need to be prioritized, because unfortunately the disease has prioritized communities of color, so we have to make sure we do it the right way,” said City Council President Darrell Clarke who represents the neighborhood.
A Gallup poll last year indicated that 4 in 10 non-white Americans said they wouldn’t get vaccinated against COVID-19. According to a Pew Research Center poll published last month, fewer than 43% of Black Americans said they would “definitely/probably” get a COVID-19 vaccine.
The mistrust is largely caused by a racist history in the U.S. of mistreating African American patients, and manipulating Black participants in scientific experiments.
Between 1932 and 1972, the U.S. Public Health Service recruited African American men to participate in the research of syphilis, in what became known as the Tuskegee Experiment. The men were told they were receiving free health care from the U.S. government. The researchers disguised placebos, ineffective methods and diagnostic procedures as treatment, and the men who had syphilis were never informed of their diagnosis, even though it could lead to serious health conditions if left untreated.
COVID-19 infections and deaths have disproportionately affected communities of color. COVID-19 hospitalization rates among Black Americans are 3.7 times higher than white Americans, and death rates are 2.8 times higher, according to recent CDC data.
Yet, Black Americans are getting the COVID-19 shot much less frequently than white Americans, according to Kaiser Health News.
“Overall, we are not vaccinating enough African Americans, that’s part of what today is about, just making it available in a place people trust. There is a trust problem among African Americans. That is totally understandable. We want to make sure it’s at a place that the people trust,” said Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley.
He said organizing vaccination events at small health centers will help build trust. Staff at the health center have been calling patients to educate them on the vaccine and dispel inaccurate information, and physicians have been sharing their own experiences getting the shot.
On Wednesday, the health clinic vaccinated about 30 patients.
“Here they are vaccinating patients who have been here as patients often for years, sometimes for generations. This is a place where they know the doctors, they know the nurses, they trust them,” Farley said.
The vaccination event was part of Philadelphia’s Phase 1B, which in addition to those over 75 and people with serious medical conditions, includes frontline essential workers and those in congregate settings.
Philadelphia is still in the process of vaccinating all health care workers as part of Phase 1A.
Health Center 5 is one of 30 federally qualified health centers in the city vaccinating its patients. Philadelphia residents can also get vaccinated at hospitals, pharmacies, assisted-living facilities, and mass vaccination sites once they’re eligible.
“We will be doing this on a continuous basis until everyone who wants the vaccine, who is over 18, has the opportunity for the vaccine,” Farley said. “We’re starting with the people who are the most vulnerable, but we will expand. That will take months, but we’re excited it’s happening today.”
New UK variant of COVID-19 found in Montgomery County
Montgomery County has reported its first case of the new UK variant of the coronavirus.
The patient is a 30-year-old bartender who works at a restaurant that has had multiple COVID-19 cases since as far back as November.
The individual developed symptoms including fever, sore throat, coughing and a loss of taste and smell two weeks ago, and tested positive a couple days later.
The bartender does not have a travel history, so health officials warn that the new UK variant is active in the county. The variant is about 1.5 times more contagious than the original strain and early data shows it may be more deadly. However, it is believed that Pzifer and Moderna vaccines work against the new variant. Health officials worldwide are also keeping their eyes on new variants from South Africa and Brazil.
“It underscores the importance of wearing masks, and keeping that social distance in particular, avoiding indoor gatherings where people are taking their masks off, because it is definitely more contagious,” said Dr. Valerie Arkoosh, Chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners.
She said diners at the restaurant where the patient works should only worry if the establishment was not following safety protocols.
“If a restaurant was doing everything they should be doing, and people were maintaining social distance, and the staff person kept a mask on at all times, and kept at least 6 feet away from patrons, I think the risk is small,” Arkoosh said. “But if those mitigations weren’t strictly followed the risk isn’t zero. And even if they were strictly followed, there’s always some risk. These mitigation efforts are not 100%, but they are critical in reducing the spread.”
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