Central Outreach doesn’t hit target numbers of shots at Aliquippa COVID-19 vaccine clinic
ALIQUIPPA — Area residents had a shot at getting the COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic held at Central Outreach Wellness Center on Wednesday, but not many took it.
The clinic, which was organized in response to low vaccination rates in Beaver County, made 300 first doses of the Pfizer vaccine available to anyone eligible under Phase 1A and 1B of the vaccine rollout, and aimed to immunize the most marginalized area residents. However, those residents may not have been looking to get immunized.
From 9:30 a.m. – 4 p.m., when workers at Central Outreach were distributing first doses, only 69 people came in to get a shot.
“I wish I could answer why there wasn’t a greater turnout,” said Alex Tatangelo, a certified nurse practitioner at the center who helped organize the clinic.
“Because it’s approved for emergency use (and) because it’s new,” he said, “there’s a lot of resistance to the vaccine.”
Jaron Taylor, a medical assistant at Central Outreach, thought awareness might have been the issue.
“The hardest part is getting the word out there,” he said.
Still, the center wasn’t anticipating so few people to show up.
With so many Beaver County residents struggling to find appointments and an even larger number of residents from disenfranchised county communities being seemingly left behind, leaders at the center increased their original clinic dose allotment from 200 to 300 and brought in additional volunteers so that those most neglected could get a shot.
According to state data, 33,885 Beaver County residents have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of Wednesday, meaning about 20% of the population is partially or fully protected against the virus.
Most of those vaccines (76%) have gone to white residents, while less than 3% have gone to Black residents. Though more than 90% of Beaver County is white, its most impoverished areas have larger numbers of Black residents who don’t seem to be getting vaccinated.
That’s the trend statewide.
While 45% of the state population has now been vaccinated, more than 45% of that vaccinated population is white. Only 2% of the vaccinated population is Black, despite Black residents making up 12% of the total state population (though more than 5% of the state’s black population lives in Philadelphia County, which is not participating in the state vaccine program).
“This is something I really looked forward to because we were really the first people in our area to really initiate testing (for COVID-19),” Tatangelo said.
Central Outreach in Aliquippa started offering drive-thru COVID-19 testing last March to any locals who were exhibiting symptoms, whether they had a referral and insurance or not. While UPMC also offered testing at the time, the organization required physician referrals.
Hoping to bring the process full circle, leaders at Central Outreach organized the clinic, which was no small effort.
Because their Aliquippa location doesn’t have the capacity to store vaccines, clinic organizers had to bring in the vaccines from their Pittsburgh/North Shore location.
“The North Shore pulls vaccines, thaws them, then brings them up here,” said Tatangelo, who noted that miniature clinics to vaccinate staff at local organizations including Wesley Family Services and Gateway Rehabilitation Center have been successful.
As the vaccines from Wednesday’s clinic have already been thawed, those unused from it will return to the North Shore location and be distributed to individuals in the Pittsburgh area over the next five days.
Despite having to return 231 first doses of the Pfizer vaccine, the clinic was far from a failure, leaders said.
Vaccinating any number of individuals brings the county and the country closer to heard immunity and normalcy, and vaccinating individuals in the most impoverished communities brings vaccination efforts closer to equality.
Ultimately, that’s what Central Outreach did.
Denise Cage, 59, Telise Stewart, 40, and Vam Tran, 36, were all amongst the first to get doses at Wednesday’s clinic and live in Aliquippa which has a 34% poverty rate — the highest in Beaver County.
Though many who snag shots of a COVID-19 vaccine depend on technology and digital savvy to search for coveted appointments, these women managed to skip the search and simply show up, as the clinic intended.
They all reported excellent experiences.
“It was so easy,” said Tran, who saw signs for the event from her neighboring home. “They just got me in and took me in, like, two minutes. I barely felt it.”
Cage, who works at the Salvation Army and learned about the clinic through a flier, agreed.
“I thought it was going to be a little worse than it was,” she said, “and I didn’t have to wait at all.”
Though the women are looking forward to gathering, socializing and traveling again, they still have about a month or so before they can do those things safely.