Pennsylvania mobile clinics seek to goose vaccination rate

Coronavirus

A healthcare worker fills a syringe with Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine at a community vaccination event in a predominately Latino neighborhood in Los Angeles, California, August 11, 2021. (Photo by Robyn Beck / AFP) (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)

(AP) — Rosie Goris lost two family members and a close friend to COVID-19. So it was a no-brainer that she would agree to host a vaccination clinic at her York, Pennsylvania, corner store, which serves a largely Hispanic clientele.

The vaccination rate among Pennsylvania’s Hispanic population of about 1 million badly trails the state as a whole, despite the Wolf administration’s outreach to minority communities. Clinics like the one to be held Monday at Rivas Deli Grocery II are aimed at closing that gap.

Goris said many of her customers are fearful the vaccine will make them sick.

“I think there’s a lot of bad information,” Goris said in a phone interview, shortly after appearing with Gov. Tom Wolf at a news conference touting the upcoming clinic.

“I’m doing this because I lost people from my own family due to COVID-19. I want people to be aware this is real. It’s taking people away,” she said.

The clinic at Goris’s store is the latest stop on a mobile vaccination tour of Pennsylvania’s minority and underserved communities. The mobile clinics — nearly 100 to date — are operated by Latino Connection, which offers health and wellness programming in low-income areas.

George Fernandez, the group’s founder and CEO, said misinformation is a big factor hindering vaccination uptake among Hispanic residents, but it’s not the only one. Language, culture, mobility and irregular working hours are others, he said.

“Pennsylvania has done an OK job in reaching out to this demographic,” he said in an interview, but a lot more work needs to be done to build trust.

Goris, 43, who emigrated from the Dominican Republic nearly 30 years ago, is herself getting an initial vaccine dose at Thursday’s clinic, along with her husband. She said they believe in the vaccine, but have been too busy running their store to get the shot.

Wolf has made several recent appearances to urge residents to get vaccinated amid a statewide surge in the coronavirus. Since January, unvaccinated people make up 94% of cases, 95% of hospitalizations and 97% of deaths, according to data released by the Health Department last week.

Cases have been rising for more than two months, driven by the highly transmissible delta variant. Pennsylvania is averaging about 4,700 new, confirmed infections per day, nearly 30 times higher than at the beginning of July.

WellSpan Health, which operates hospitals in York and elsewhere in central Pennsylvania, said its COVID-19 patients are younger, sicker and overwhelmingly unvaccinated — including every single pandemic patient who requires critical care.

“The most discouraging part of this is that this latest surge was completely avoidable,” WellSpan said in a statement.

GOP AGENDA

Leaders of the Republican-controlled state House said their legislative agenda will include measures to “assert local control in public health decisions.”

The Republicans have hammered Wolf, a Democrat, over a statewide mask mandate in schools that took effect Sept. 7 and has been unpopular among some school boards, parents and students. The House came back into session a week earlier than scheduled to take up mask legislation, among other measures.

Residents are “recovering from the pandemic and still dealing with statewide mandates from an over-reaching executive branch. Our members have heard from frustrated people in all corners of our commonwealth, and we are ready to carry those messages into the work we do in Harrisburg,” said House Speaker Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster.

Wolf’s health secretary issued the masking order to combat a COVID-19 surge that has seen infections soar among school-aged children.

The House Democratic leadership said in a statement Monday that Republicans are “refusing to recognize that Pennsylvanians overwhelmingly support masking in schools.” They urged the GOP not to “give in to a very loud minority.”

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