Nearly half of unvaccinated Americans say they may be willing to get vaccinated but have not because of different challenges, Meryl Kornfield reports for the Washington Post. And while providers and volunteers have made efforts to reach this population, they remain hindered by a lack of funding.
'Unvaccinated but willing'
Around 44% of unvaccinated Americans say they may be willing to get vaccinated, but different reasons have prevented them from doing so, Kornfield reports. According to a report from HHS last month, this group of "unvaccinated but willing" people make up approximately 10% of the U.S. population.
According to Kornfield, vaccinating this population could be crucial in helping the United States reach herd immunity and protecting groups who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. However, public health officials have struggled to reach this population, which includes young adults, Black and Hispanic Americans, and those who are uninsured.
Several barriers may hinder these individuals from getting vaccinated, Kornfield reports, including difficulty accessing vaccine sites, a lack of information about how to get the vaccine, or uncertainty about the effects of the vaccine.
For example, Yolanda Orosco-Arellano, a hotel housekeeper and mother of four, wanted to get vaccinated but had difficulties securing an appointment. She lacked transportation to get to the vaccine clinic and needed an appointment that could be scheduled around her work shifts.
Cody Grier, a pre-med student and volunteer at Medical Outreach Ministries, a clinic in Montgomery, Ala., said many of the clinic's patients were overwhelmed by the amount of information available online about the vaccines. In addition, some patients were worried about the cost of the vaccine, unaware that they could receive it for free.
And many undocumented immigrants are concerned about needing official identification to receive the vaccine, Kornfield reports, although showing a driver's license, social security number, or health insurance card is not required.
According to Jovany Ochoa, a volunteer at HealthNet, a clinic in Rock County, Wis., it's unfair to perceive everyone who is unvaccinated as just being against the vaccine. "[T]here's a lot more to it than that," he said. "I just don't want them to be categorized for being selfish or anything like that because that's not the reason they're not getting it. They're not getting it because sometimes they literally can't or they don't know how to."
Clinics increase outreach but remain limited by lack of funding
Currently, nearly 100 free and charitable clinics across the country have joined an initiative called "Project Finish Line," which aims to vaccinate one million people in underserved communities, Kornfield reports.
Several clinics are offering rides to patients without transportation and expanding their hours to accommodate patients' work schedules. Some health workers spend their lunch breaks or time outside of work vaccinating patients who can't reach the clinic when it is open.
Many health clinics are also providing educational outreach for their patients through phone calls or in-person visits, Kornfield reports. For example, Ochoa, one of HealthNet's educational "ambassadors," visits supermarkets, farms, and factories where he knows many workers are still unvaccinated to answer any questions they may have about the vaccine.
According to Joe Agoada, CEO of Sostento, a nonprofit supporting frontline health workers in underserved communities, clinics that are part of "Project Finish Line" have vaccinated more than 112,000 people since June. HHS data has also shown that the number of people who are willing but unable to get vaccinated has declined recently, suggesting outreach efforts have had some success.
However, Agoada said the "safety-net" clinics spearheading these vaccination efforts do not receive federal funding and instead largely rely on grants and donations, which can make it difficult for them to keep up with their patients' needs.
Separately, Ericka Sinclair, CEO of Health Connections clinic, said a lack of critical funding to support these clinics can lead to further distrust from patients as providers try to answer questions they may not yet be prepared for. "If you leave too much of a gap between when the question is asked and when there's an answer, that creates distrust every moment that exists," she said. "People need to feel addressed, not dismissed."
So far, Sostento has raised $500,000 for its vaccination efforts, just half of what the nonprofit has said it needs, Kornfield reports.
"Free and charitable clinics are vaccinating populations nobody else can, despite a lack of resources," Agoada said. "To defeat this pandemic, we cannot afford to overlook and underinvest in this group, and yet so far this is exactly what has happened." (Kornfield, Washington Post, 9/23)