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Community Organizers Share Their Vaccine Stories

When the vaccine became available to District residents age 65 and older in January, Philip Pannell jumped at the chance to get the shot. As the executive director of the Anacostia Coordinating Council (ACC) and a resident of Ward 8, he has seen firsthand the impact of Covid-19 on DC residents in his ward, which has the highest number of Covid-19 deaths (197) of all eight wards, and the second highest rate of age-adjusted Covid-19 cases, right behind Ward 4.

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Senior Vaccine Buddies prepare to work!

He initially had difficulty making an appointment, but then received a call from someone working for Mayor Bowser’s Senior Vaccine Buddy program, who asked if he would like assistance in scheduling an appointment. Philip’s “Vaccine Buddy” then visited him at home (outdoors and socially distanced) and gave him a card with the date and time of his appointment at the Washington Senior Wellness Center in Ward 7. The Senior Vaccine Buddy program helps older adults, primarily those in Ward 8, sign up for vaccine appointments.

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Philip Pannell receives his vaccine.

Philip received his first dose of the Moderna vaccine on February 9. When he arrived, he filled out the intake form and only had to wait a few minutes before receiving the vaccine. He experienced soreness in shoulder for a few days, but nothing debilitating. His only complaint was that the font on the intake form was too small, making it difficult to read and fill out. After he got his first vaccine, he was given a list of places where he could make an appointment for his second dose, which he also got on March 9 at the Washington Senior Wellness Center.

Stuart Anderson, director of community engagement at the ACC, was with Philip when he got his first vaccine, and as luck would have it, Stuart got his shot just a few days later at Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church (PABC) in Ward 7. The church hosted three vaccine clinics in February and vaccinated 300 DC residents during this time. PABC’s vaccine clinics were part of DC Health’s “Faith in the Vaccine” initiative to further engage the faith community in spreading the word about the safety of the Covid-19 vaccines. “We first served as a testing site, and it made sense to transition to being a vaccine site because we can reach people who may not feel comfortable going elsewhere,” said Rev. Kendrick Curry, senior pastor at Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church and AARP DC State President. “The community knows we are a trusted source of information and guidance.”

The vaccine clinics at PABC and other churches were part of an effort to combat vaccine hesitancy in the Black community and improve access in areas where vaccination rates have been low, such as Wards 5, 7, and 8. Experts cite institutional racism and the historical medical mistreatment perpetrated on the Black community, such as the 40-year Tuskegee experiments, as prime drivers of vaccine hesitancy.

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Stuart Anderson receives his vaccine.

Stuart understands this hesitancy firsthand. He was at PABC on February 11 providing masks, hand sanitizer, and other personal protective equipment (PPE) to people who came to the site that day. As sometimes happens, not everyone who had scheduled an appointment showed up, so Stuart was offered the Moderna vaccine since all the doses had to be used that day or else they would be thrown away. He has never even gotten a flu shot but decided to take the vaccine “for the team.” He got his second shot on March 11, also at PABC. By getting the vaccine and talking about his experience, he is trying to dispel the myth that the vaccine is unsafe. He cited the Tuskegee experiments as an example of why there is so much distrust of the government in the Black community, but recognizes that “now is a different time, and this is a virus that disproportionately affects the Black community.”

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