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Onondaga County holds pop-up clinics in communities with low vaccine rates

Ellen Abbott
WRVO Public Media
A pop-up clinic at the Tucker Missionary Baptist Church in Syracuse.

As the amount of COVID-19 vaccine continue to grow across central New York, officials are encouraging certain communities who are hesitant to get the shot to roll up their sleeves.

Initially, it was hard to get people in his community lined up for shots, according to Tucker Missionary Church Pastor Decarto Draper, because of the scarcity of the vaccine.

“You get people excited about something and they will not want to do it out of disappointment,” Draper said. “Say my name is going to be on a list, and they wait for a call and they never get a call, so now they don’t want to deal with it at all."

Now that supply has loosened up, Draper is hearing other reasons for the hesitancy.

"I had some people say to me, Pastor, what about the side effects of the shot?” Draper said. “I said well, here’s the flip side. You can take it and have side effects, or not take it and go to the cemetery. You make up your mind, which one you want to do."

There’s also hesitancy among African Americans because of access issues and mistrust of the health system, rooted in a racist history involving unethical testing of Black individuals. Syracuse Deputy Mayor Sharon Owens said she’s encouraging people to get educated about the vaccine, if that’s their concern.

"Get the facts and make a personal decision for your life,” Owens said. “Understanding your personal decision for your life, understanding that your personal decision really is not personal, because your decision is affecting other people."

She said some people told her they didn’t want the shot because it’s at the state fairgrounds, the biggest immunization site in the region.

“Going to the state fair, all they could think of is the state fair, how we know the state fair,” Owens said. “I don’t want to go to the state fair with all those people. But when they got there, they could not believe how streamlined it was. It didn’t feel dangerous.”

As these leaders go into the community with their message, they encourage others who’ve received the vaccine, to tell their stories as well. In the meantime, the county is planning more pop-up clinics that target certain neighborhoods with low vaccine rates. Onondaga County statistics show only 6.7% of people who’ve received the vaccine are Black, when they make up 11% of the population. 

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.