Cities play a key role in efficient and equitable vaccination rollout, using their unique grasp of the local context to understand and advocate for the needs of vulnerable populations. South Bend, Indiana, and its surrounding county – St. Joseph County – set out to ensure their minority populations had equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.
St. Joseph County, including the city of South Bend, faced the same issues as much of the country, where disparities in vaccine equity are driven by both demand and supply-side factors. Limited supply, especially in the early months of vaccine rollout, created scarcity. This meant there were limited locations to receive a vaccine, and most appointments were only available during working hours; these factors compounded access issues for Black, Hispanic, and low-income residents with less reliable transit and/or less flexible jobs. On the demand side, vaccine hesitancy among minority - especially Black - communities is driven by historic and legitimate distrust of the medical profession and government officials.
Additionally, St Joseph County is 80% white; lack of representation in the county’s medical community may have underscored all the issues above.
When the city and county looked at the share of vaccines given to people in different racial and ethnic groups compared to that group’s share of the total population, they revealed insufficient vaccinations for Black/African American and Hispanic/Latinx residents.
The COVID-19 crisis demands close coordination between cities, who are uniquely positioned to advocate for vulnerable residents, and counties, who tend to be the keepers of public health data, and are key players in the federal vaccination rollout plan.
South Bend and St. Joseph County began by establishing a joint city-county vaccine task force, with support from DA. Equity was a key priority, which meant building data systems to paint a clear picture of vaccination rates in the context of total population share, and using targeted problem solving to address gaps.
Since February 2021, the city-county vaccine task force has met to gather and analyze contextualized data and align on outreach efforts and strategies, including:
While this important collaboration was underway, DA Digital worked closely with the city to automate and visualize data reporting in a single, public facing dashboard, launched in May 2021. The dashboard now saves 10-15 hours of work for city and county officials every week, while helping highlight disparities in COVID-19 outcomes and vaccinations among different racial and ethnic groups. This analytics platform is public facing, for increased transparency and accountability with residents. This tool supports the ongoing work of the task force.
Close city-county collaboration, routine meetings, data collection, and targeted outreach have helped South Bend make steady progress in reducing vaccine disparity among Black and Hispanic communities.
Clear data and targeted outreach are contributing to steady improvements in vaccine equity
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