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Ambassadors for COVID-19 Vaccine are Part of Strategy to Boost Rates

Patti Singer
pattisinger@minorityreporter.net

Camaje Grissom, an ambassador for COVID vaccine outreach, hands out information May 9 at the Lilac Festival. Photo provided by Common Ground Health

If 18-year-old Camaje Grissom were to see someone his age on his front porch, asking if he’d gotten the COVID-19 vaccine or was planning to, he said he’d pay attention.

“If it were an older person, I’d be like, you probably only got it because you’re old,” said Grissom, who is preparing to graduate in June from Edison Tech.

He said “us young people, we feel invincible,” so seeing someone his age is more likely to influence his decision.

As the initial rush for COVID-19 vaccine has slowed, in some cases to a trickle, new approaches are being tried to encourage people to protect themselves and others by getting inoculated. Grissom is among a group of four new ambassadors working for Common Ground Health who are trying to boost vaccination rates in ZIP codes that have lagged in vaccination rate since vaccination started.

“I won’t put it solely on the ambassadors,” said Wade Norwood, chief executive officer of Common Ground Health.

He said information that Common Ground Health and community partners have learned over the past months about setting up vaccination sites and tailoring the message also are important in increasing vaccination rates among Blacks and Latinos.

As of April 1, Blacks made up 8.1 percent and Latinos made up 5.3% of people eligible in Monroe County to get vaccine who had received at least one dose, according to data from the state Department of Health.

As of May 9, Blacks made up 8.9% and Latinos made up 6.3% of residents with at least one dose.

Norwood said data on age, gender and specific geography need to be broken out so that resources are going where they are needed.

The Finger Lakes Vaccine Hub, of which Norwood is a co-chairperson, recently started providing that data at flvaccinehub.org/regional-data.

Jackie Dozier, community health and well-being program manager for Common Ground Health, did outreach around the COVID vaccine outreach May 9 at the Lilac Festival. Photo provided by Common Ground Health

The data include information by ZIP code, something advocates for equity have said is needed so that everyone has an equal opportunity to be vaccinated.

“My hope would be that we would begin to have movement in the numbers because we as a community are doing a better job of reaching people who are still in the decision-making process and providing the information and the supports that they need to more effectively move from,” Norwood said.

The data show that in the 14534 ZIP code of Pittsford, 81.8% of eligible residents have received at least one dose. In 14611 in Rochester, 35.3% have received at least one dose.

Jackie Dozier, program manager for community health and well-being at Common Ground Health, was talking with some young men recently when she was doing outreach at some barbershops.

“I took their phone numbers and gave them a call and explained a little more about what the ambassador position entailed,” she said.

“We felt that we needed an additional group of individuals, specifically, young men to be able to go out into the community and to help with some door to door canvassing, to talk to people about the vaccine, find out if people have been scheduled to get it,” she said.

Ambassadors receive a stipend and are required to put in 10 hours a week doing outreach. They have been at the Lilac Festival and also will canvass neighborhoods. Four ambassadors have completed training, three more are in the process and Dozier said she hopes to recruit a total of 15.

Dozier said often it’s women who are looked to as leaders on health projects, but there is a need to involve men.

“It’s all about relationships,” she said. “It’s a peer to peer conversation. I don’t think we utilize our young men enough in the community. To engage our men, period, because they are community influencers.”

Grissom is headed to the Army after graduation and said he will receive his COVID-19 vaccine when he starts his training.

Before he leaves, though, he wants to deliver a message.

“People need to get vaccinated, especially people in my age group.”