Breaking Down the Barriers to COVID-19

The Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has constantly evolved over the past several years, affecting everyone in their daily lives. Residents in our communities have experienced isolation and homelessness in addition to dealing with economic shutdown and the many lives lost. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), older unvaccinated adults are more likely than other populations to be hospitalized or die from COVID-19.

It is essential that we supply preventive guidance to protect these older adults from severe illness and death. Senior citizens and other unvaccinated adults need access to the latest COVID-19 facts to make informed decisions about their health, but many do not know where to obtain reliable information. To reduce the spread of the COVID-19 in our region, Centralina Area Agency on Aging (AAA) has been working diligently in partnership with the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to provide homebound seniors and older adults in the community with educational materials. This awareness campaign had two major components – community outreach and the development of an online resource portal.

A Targeted Approach to Community Outreach

Centralina Regional Planning staff developed a mapping tool to identify areas that are more likely to have people who need assistance in obtaining a COVID-19 vaccine. Using state data, the project team indexed census tracts in our region based on vaccination rates, access to the internet, access to transportation, poverty levels and health insurance, among several other factors. The result of this work is an interactive map that identifies target areas to help focus Centralina AAA’s educational and outreach efforts and guide decisions for billboard placement and other traditional advertising methods.

In the greater Mecklenburg County area, Centralina AAA designed multiple projects to educate older adults about the importance of coronavirus immunizations The goal was to foster participation and vaccine confidence with our communities. The team focused on community engagement with underserved populations, especially those with English as a second language, who face barriers in accessing and using healthcare services. Centralina AAA hired a translator to convert printed materials to Spanish and create messaging for Hispanic newspapers and radio.

The COVID Portal

Centralina AAA also developed an online platform to promote vaccine awareness. This COVID-19 vaccine portal is a hub of educational COVID-19 resources that gives users critical information about at-home vaccinations, vaccine transportation options, local county resources, the latest updates on COVID-19 vaccines/boosters and information about the spread of COVID-19 in our region and across the state. A FAQ section is dedicated to answering the most common questions about vaccines and is intended to build vaccine confidence in older adults and their caregivers. 

The aforementioned mapping tool is also available for reference on the portal. Data points cover vaccination rate, age (60+), disability status, lack of internet access, lack of vehicle access, poverty, limited English, those living alone, lack of health insurance and those with less than a high school education.

Health Equity 

Events such as the 1932 United States Public Health Service Syphilis Study at Tuskegee and medical misinformation has resulted in a lack of confidence in transparency with minority populations. Centralina had a very deliberate, strategic approach to the vaccine campaign to ensure that health equity and equality was addressed in every facet of outreach. Our team strives to create safe spaces for minorities so that they can get the information they need to make informed decisions about the COVID-19 vaccine.

In Summary

The vaccine awareness campaign will run through September 30, 2022. The multimarket billboard campaign targeting homebound adults and caregivers has already reached over one million people. The COVID-19 vaccine portal has reached thousands of people and continues to reach more people daily. Additionally, Centralina AAA has distributed over ­10,000 ­­­products and materials including masks, hand sanitizers and COVID test kits. Centralina also partnered with Atrium Health, Novant Health, Healthier Together and numerous local publications to give the latest developments from the CDC and to encourage COVID-19 vaccinations. New cases of COVID-19 may continue to rise, but Centralina will continue to champion vaccine awareness and find innovative ways to support our communities. In the words of NCDHHS, ‘Find a spot to take your shot’ to protect you and your family.