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Oneida County outreach aims to expand access to COVID-19 vaccinations

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Jessica Cain
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Oneida County agencies sign people up for the COVID-19 vaccine

A major outreach effort is underway in Oneida County to make sure diverse communities have access to COVID-19 vaccines and information.

Enthusiastic workers set up tables filled with water and snacks in Utica’s Oneida Square and stood at the ready to help community members figure out how and where they could get COVID-19 vaccines.

The Mohawk Valley COVID Community Navigator Program is a coalition of agencies led by The Center in Utica. It includes Hope Chapel AME Zion Church, Mohawk Valley Frontiers, Mohawk Valley Latino Association, Rome NAACP, and Utica/Oneida County NAACP.

Shelly Callahan, the executive director of The Center, said it’s a local response to a national challenge.

"We know that communities of color, black, brown, refugee, immigrant, have been disproportionately affected by the COVID virus, and we also know that they often times don't have access to medical clinics, vaccination clinics," said Callahan.

Callahan said to help more people get their vaccines, the coalition provides information in 15 different languages.  In addition to outreach events, members go door-to-door signing people up and helping neighbors solve transportation issues.

They also try to address their neighbors’ questions and fears about the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine, which may stem from different cultural histories.

“They need to be approached in a way that is cognizant of that history, respectful of that history, and respectful of the fact that if given access to information, they’re going to make good decisions for their communities,” said Callahan.

Patty Charvat, senior vice-president of marketing and strategy for the Mohawk Valley Health System, said it’s important to make vaccines readily accessible to diverse communities.

"We have to continue doing this extensive outreach where people live, where they work, where they worship and showcase that it's safe, bust some of those myths," said Charvat.

Callahan said coalition members plan to continue their efforts for the next five weeks.