Distributing the Vaccine Takes Time, Trust in Arlington Neighborhoods

By Amie Knowles

March 25, 2021

Community partners in Arlington spread the word about COVID-19 vaccinations.

ARLINGTON – How do you vaccinate groups in Virginia that don’t have internet? Arlington officials find themselves asking that question.

Even though the state offers online registration, a call center and mobile units in some localities, some people still had trouble getting the vaccine. Kurt Larrick, assistant director of the Arlington County Department of Human Services, noted some of the main vaccine hindrances.

“I think there are several factors that can come into play. Not everybody has access to the internet. So [an] internet-based system is going to leave people on the sidelines,” Larrick said. “I know they do have the phone number to get around that, but, you know, it takes time for people to get through that.”

The multi-step process also has room for confusion and concern. Once a person pre-registers, they wait. Then, a perfect stranger contacts them with a date, time and location to receive their shot. Sometimes, people don’t pick up the phone or check those emails, in fear of a scam. Therefore, they remain unvaccinated.

Transportation also limits some would-be vaccine recipients. Larrick and his team work together to ensure that everyone they assist with getting the vaccine has a way to get to their appointment.

“We’re committed to making sure that transportation is never a barrier between a person and a needle, in this case,” Larrick said. “When we schedule the appointments with people, we’ll talk them through all the different transportation options. ‘Do you have family, friends, [a] neighbor, cab, bus?’ And if you know, we go through all that and if they still don’t have a way to get to their vaccination appointment, we’ll arrange for a transportation service for them.”

Making Connections, Building Trust

Arlington County recently announced a partnership with Neighborhood Health, Arlington Free Clinic, Macedonia Baptist Church and local non-profit organizations. Together, they plan to address disparities in COVID-19 vaccination rates among Arlington’s Black, Latino, low-income and other communities severely affected by the pandemic.

 The Arlington County Department of Human Services started scheduling vaccine appointments for people referred by the nonprofits. But one of the biggest hindrances surrounding COVID-19 vaccine inoculation is trust. And that’s hard to mend. But one local church is trying to do just that.

Some Arlington residents will receive their vaccine at Macedonia Baptist Church.

“Forever, they have been a pillar of our spiritual and community well-being,” Larrick said. “You know, they have been in Arlington forever. They’re in a historically black neighborhood [and] they’re a trusted voice. They’re a trusted partner and people believe them. And their church, actually, is where we have one of our vaccine clinics.”

The pastor, Rev. Craig Harcum, spoke about the trusting role the church held in the community.

“We want to make sure more members of our community have the opportunity to receive the vaccine,” Harcum said. “The church is a trusted factor, a trusted force in the community, and we are able to help seniors who might lack technical access, or others who struggle to understand the process. Our goal is to save lives spiritually as well as physically.”

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Vaccines at Macedonia

For those receiving a vaccine at Macedonia Baptist Church, chances are they’ll speak with Clara Lamback, the pastor’s administrative assistant. Over the past couple of weeks, she helped community members register for their vaccine at the church.

“Having the vaccine being done at the church, I believe that relaxed some of the fears that some other people might have about getting the vaccine,” Lamback said.

During the church’s inaugural vaccination last Friday, approximately 100 community members arrived for the shot. Next week, Lamback said the number of available doses will increase to 150, and the church will vaccinate on both Tuesday and Friday. That’s because more people are showing interest – and those people are telling their friends.

“I would say that the word is getting around. And I’m happy for every time this phone rings, that someone says that they are calling to get the vaccine,” Lamback said. “There are some people that are in the neighborhood of the church now [who are] campaigning – well, when I say campaign, they are encouraging persons to come – and they’re trying to get as many residents in the area to come and register to get the vaccine. And I had one person who has had the first vaccine, she registered seven people today.”

Lamback expressed that the best way to spread the message was by word of mouth. She demonstrated an easy, yet poignant, conversation to bridge the gap.

“If you see someone you can ask them, ‘Have you had your vaccine?’ ‘No.’ ‘Why not?’ ‘Well, I was told…’ ‘No, don’t pay attention to rumors. You want to protect yourself and you want to protect your family.’ ‘Okay,’” Lamback said.

Getting a Referral in Arlington

Neighborhood Health works with nonprofit safety-nets and faith organizations to vaccinate individuals from the communities most impacted by COVID-19 at its vaccine sites in Alexandria and Fairfax County. As a Federally Qualified Health Center, it obtains vaccine directly from the federal government. Arlington Free Clinic provides COVID-19 vaccines to its uninsured clients using vaccine allocated by the Arlington Public Health Division.

The Arlington County Department of Human Services will schedule appointments at either the Neighborhood Health site at Macedonia Baptist Church, the Arlington Free Clinic site at their facility off Columbia Pike or at one of the county sites. The county sites include Sequoia Plaza, Walter Reed Community Center and Lubber Run Community Center. All vaccine appointments are available by referral only.

In addition, the Arlington Department of Human Services will also manage the referral process from local nonprofit safety-net organizations and affordable housing providers. The organization will notify the community partners when it is time to register their clients and residents.

Amie Knowles reports for Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected]

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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