Gang Free Inc. takes aim at COVID-19

·3 min read

Sep. 23—HENDERSON — Vaccines for the COVID-19 virus are being administered in the Tri-County region. But the demographic distribution of the shots is skewed.

Gang Free Inc., a local nonprofit, has patched together a network of partnerships to reduce vaccination inequities in the region.

The group's founder and executive director, Melissa Elliott, said vaccination is key to combating the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I believe that making vaccination equity and education our top priority along with incentives will move the needle in the right direction," she said.

Data from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services indicate that COVID-19 vaccines are not being administered equally among the different demographic groups that make up the population of the state. And they're not evenly distributed among the counties of the state.

Minorities are receiving the vaccine at somewhat lower rates than the population at large. DHHS reported that African Americans, with 23.1% of the state's population, had received only 18.2% of the vaccinations administered as of Sept. 9.

A similar pattern is apparent for the Hispanic population. With a 9.8% share of the state's population, that group had received 8.5% of the vaccines administered.

The American Indian population, which makes up 1.7% of the state's population, has received 0.9% of the vaccines administered so far.

The good news, officials and advocates say, is that progress is being made to reduce the disparities. Each of the minority groups has received a higher share of vaccines during the past four weeks.

Data is not available to determine the degree to which those inequitable vaccination rates exist locally. However, the disparity in vaccination rates between counties is evident in the region.

Data provided by Granville Vance Public Health shows that, through Sept. 17, 62% of the population over the age of 12 in Vance County have received at least one dose of their COVID-19 vaccine and 56% are fully vaccinated. In Granville County, the numbers are 67% and 63%, respectively.

The picture is different in Warren County, where — according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control data — only 35.1% of the "eligible population" is fully vaccinated. Because this is a different statistic from those provided for Vance and Granville counties, a direct comparison can't be made.

Gang Free has partnered with Rural Health Group, Granville-Vance Public Health and Ottendorf Laboratories in a regional effort to provide COVID-19 vaccinations to traditionally underserved populations.

Rural Health Group is a familiar actor on the local health scene. The organization is based in Roanoke Rapids but also operates clinics in Henderson, Norlina and Littleton.

Ottendorf is a medical laboratory in Apex specializing in medical equipment, and pathogen identification (including COVID-19), among other things.

With this network, Gang Free has offered vaccinations in multiple locations to provide easy access almost anywhere in the region. For the reluctant shot taker, Gang Free has joined with Ottendorf Labs to offer gift cards with a value of $100 to people getting their first COVID-19 vaccination.

Elliott said her organization has operated at more than 40 vaccination sites, including Aycock Recreation Center, Vance County Middle School and numerous locations in Hispanic communities.

It's hired 10 community health workers to help residents with COVID-related needs including, in addition to vaccine assistance, food for their families, personal protective equipment, household items and rental and utility bills.

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