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Efforts Shift as COVID-19 Vaccine Becomes Plentiful

Patti Singer

Wade Norwood at an online news conference April 22, 2021, told how being vaccinated allowed him and his wife to visit their vaccinated daughter in Washington, D.C. Photo by Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

Staff at vaccine clinics aren’t just sitting around, drumming their fingers on the table and waiting for someone to show up.

But they’ve had enough down time recently, as supply has exceeded demand, for Monroe County officials to make it easier for people to get vaccinated:

As of April 22, all clinics in the county began accepting walk-ins. That includes the four city sites that are dedicated to residents of targeted ZIP codes.

Appointments can be made at (585) 753-5555 without having to wrangle with a website.

In addition, Finger Lakes Vaccine Hub has started a communications campaign that will include broadcast announcements. A speakers bureau can send a variety of health professionals to talk to groups, either online or in person.

“This effort has moved into a new phase where we really have to start doing the very challenging work of convincing, reaching, informing and providing confidence to those of our neighbors who were not in the activated stage of taking this vaccine,” Wade Norwood, chief executive officer of Common Ground Health, said April 22 during Monroe County’s weekly COVID-19 news conference.

Norwood also is co-chair, along with Dr. Nancy Bennett, of the Finger Lakes Vaccine Hub, which is coordinating efforts in the region. The conference included Monroe County Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza and Monroe County Executive Adam Bello.

They reported a continued increase in the number of new COVID-19 cases among children, teens and people in their 20s and 30s.

They said new cases have declined among people 60 and older, among the early groups to be vaccinated, shows the vaccine works. They also said that no one who has been vaccinated and contracted COVID-19 has been hospitalized as a result of the illness.

However, age-adjusted rates of illness and death for Blacks and Latinos continues to exceed that of whites, according to data as of April 1 that was analyzed by the Monroe County Department of Public Health.

Despite a federal/state site on St. Paul Street, pop-up clinics and the sites in each quadrant as well as at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center, vaccination rates among Blacks and Latinos have not moved significantly in about the past month. Blacks make up about 8.4% and Latinos make up about 6% of all eligible people in Monroe County who’ve received at least one dose.

Increasing vaccination rate among minorities “will take us doing business differently,” Norwood said. “It will take the community that we’re trying to reach thinking about this differently.”

He said local control over who can vaccinate people and where that can happen is providing more flexibility. He said African Americans have expressed they’d like a vaccine site to have a space for meditation and prayer.

“That was a very striking request as I thought about my own lived experience. … That’s not something I’m certain the federal government or the state government had the opportunity to hear being said by the African Americans who live in Rochester. … How do we take that learning that we have about what makes a difference and incorporate that in site planning and communicate it to people.”

Overlooked in the percentage of people receiving vaccine are the stories of people who have started reclaiming their lives.

Norwood became emotional as he told of his and his wife’s trip to see their daughter in Washington, D.C.

“It was was a trip that has long been desired,” he said, made possible because all had been completely vaccinated.

“As much as we talk with you all about this as a community issue, let me very very clear. This is a personal issue. My ability to reconnect with my life and with my children has been made possible by this vaccine.”

Norwood quoted Stevie Wonder’s I Wish: “I wish those days could come back once more.”

Norwood said after losing the holiday season of 2020, he is focused on this coming Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“The only way that we’re going to be able to create for me the sense of community and of holiday and of love is if we are able to all move toward being vaccinated so that we can interact with each other in the way that we used to do. … It’s about our personal song in the key of life.”