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Fulton County rolls out Health Equity program to get minority, low income patients COVID vaccine

For county commission chairman Robb Pitts, the disparity he saw happening at a vaccine clinic in his own backyard couldn't be ignored.

FULTON COUNTY, Ga. — It's been well-established by data that COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted people of color.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said those communities are more likely suffer severe symptoms and die. It's made it especially critical that the state and counties ensure minorities have access to the vaccine.

For county commission chairman Robb Pitts, the disparity he saw happening at a vaccine clinic in his own backyard couldn't be ignored.

"There had been 350 people - only four of the 350 were black," Pitts explained. "Which led me to believe yes indeed there is a problem."

Now the Health Equity Initiative in Fulton County is open for Fulton residents - 65 years and older - from minority and low-income backgrounds.

"To bring in people who are otherwise, perhaps, not able to use the internet, don't have transportation, who are otherwise disadvantaged," said Dr. Lynn Paxton, the director of the Fulton County Board of Health.

Each month, 2,500 vaccine doses in Fulton will be set aside for the program, along with appointments three days a week. Additionally, county staff are currently calling a list of more than 4,000 plus seniors based on information from county senior day centers.

During the call, the person is interviewed and, if they are eligible, offered a vaccine appointment. If someone is hesitant, they can have their questions answered. The county will also be tracking how many people offered appointments are saying "no thanks," and their reasons.

"We are very intentional about linking that senior to a nurse educator within our board of health, so they can be educated on the vaccine and be able to have their questions answered," said Anna Roach, Fulton County's Chief Operating Officer.

Shuttles and a partnership with Uber and Lyft will provide free rides, if needed. And, 48 hours later, another call is made to check on any side effects and ask how their experience was.

As vaccine supply and the state's eligibility expands, the county plans to expand its program. 

After a roundtable discussion Wednesday with Gov. Brian Kemp, Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice, president of Morehouse School of Medicine, said the school has vaccinated 1,200 people, two-thirds of them Black. But, the key is going to the right communities.

"If you put the vaccination site in the right communities, you will get people of color being vaccinated," she said. "That is why, based on feedback, Fulton will soon open a clinic in College Park, to help with vaccinations there."