Health department working to vaccinate underserved in Gwinnett

Lines form outside a Gwinnett County vaccination site Monday, March 8, 2021 at Gwinnett Place Mall in Duluth. (PHOTO/Daniel Varnado)
Lines form outside a Gwinnett County vaccination site Monday, March 8, 2021 at Gwinnett Place Mall in Duluth. (PHOTO/Daniel Varnado)

Credit: Daniel Varnado

Credit: Daniel Varnado

Anyone at least 16 years of age can now receive a COVID-19 vaccine in the state, but there are still Georgians who lack access to one.

The Gwinnett, Newton, and Rockdale County Health Departments is creating a map that will highlight areas with high minority populations who have difficulty getting vaccinated. The map will allow the three-county department to fill the vaccine gap by pinpointing where to send mobile vaccine teams, said Audrey Arona, CEO and district health director of the department.

The three-county health department has worked to expand its vaccine program since mid-March, Arona said Wednesday, sending out multiple mobile teams each week to underserved populations across its health district. The department is filling April fast by sending out one or two mobile teams to different locations nearly every day, she said.

The mobile teams, composed of two nurses and volunteers, deliver about 100 vaccine doses at each stop. The department reserves the small amount of Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccines it receives for these stops, which include senior centers and African-American and Hispanic churches, Arona said.

Based on preliminary findings, the department will prioritize sending out mobile teams to eastern and southern Gwinnett County, Arona said. These areas have few vaccine providers, likely because they’re less populated than the rest of the county, she said.

Anywhere from 3,000 to 3,600 vaccines are distributed each day at the department’s mass vaccination site in the former Sears at Gwinnett Place Mall. But Arona said some people lack the transportation or time needed to make a trip to Duluth.

As of Monday, the department had given out about 120,000 vaccine doses, with about 37% being second doses. Despite Black residents making up 34% of the district’s population, only about 18% of those doses went to them.

With minority populations disproportionately affected by COVID-19, Arona said the department hopes that its mobile teams can bridge the gap. But providing vaccine access is only part of the battle, as some individuals remain hesitant about getting the shot, she said.

Individuals feel reluctant to take the vaccine for a variety of reasons, including mistrust of government, fears of adverse side effects and the misbelief that the technology used to make the vaccine is new, Arona said.

Since vaccines rolled out in Georgia, Arona has worked on educating the public and clearing up misinformation. She has participated in several live streams to share information with the public, many of them hosted by prominent local organizations such as Gwinnett Cares, the Latin American Association, large churches and African-American groups, she said.

As vaccine supply continues to increase, Arona said her department will prioritize both delivering vaccines as quickly and safely as possible and continuing to educate the public about the importance of vaccinating.

“I wish we had a dose for every single person right now, and if we did, we could get it out much quicker,” Arona said. “But as supply increases, there’ll be more and more places to get it. And we’re hoping that when people find an appointment, they’ll run to get the vaccines.”

In Other News