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Efforts underway in Groton to reduce barriers to COVID-19 vaccination

Groton — Efforts are underway in Groton to help reduce the barriers people may face to getting vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Groton Public Schools Diversity Equity and Inclusion Committee, working with other community organizations, plans to distribute information about the COVID-19 vaccine and help people with appointments.

On Saturday, April 24, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and Sunday, April 25, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., the "Groton in Action" group will knock on doors in Branford Manor and Poquonnock Plains neighborhoods to talk to people and identify the barriers that are preventing families from getting vaccinated, and then find ways to address those barriers, said Jemal Davis, chair of the schools' DEI Committee and assistant principal at Groton Middle School.

“We want to really try to do our best to make sure that we really get a good idea of what the needs are,” he explained.

Meanwhile, in another initiative, Ledge Light Health District and the City of Groton are organizing a vaccine clinic Tuesday at Branford Manor, open to Branford Manor residents, to administer about 100 vaccine doses.

“We are making a concerted effort to take the vaccine to the vulnerable populations,” city Mayor Keith Hedrick said. He said city workers and volunteers helped to distribute information about the clinic to residents at Branford Manor. After this first clinic, he said they are looking to expand the opportunity to other vulnerable populations in the city.

Vaccine outreach

Davis said the idea for outreach about COVID-19 vaccines initially came about as he and Erin McGuire, assistant principal at Robert E. Fitch High School, recognized from an educational point of view that some families were not yet vaccinated and therefore were concerned about sending their children back to school.

While the initiative started to help families get vaccinated in the hopes of bringing more students back to school full time, it then expanded in recognition that other populations, who may not necessarily have school-aged children, also were not getting vaccinated, he said.

“Our goal is really trying to support the community the best that we possibly can and because as educators we have an opportunity to interact with other organizations on a regular basis, we felt this was a great opportunity to use our community partnerships to help our community in general,” Davis said.

The schools’ DEI Committee is collaborating with the town's DEI committee on the initiative to increase opportunity and access for the families who statistically have not been able to access the COVID-19 vaccine as readily as other groups.

Davis said Ledge Light Health District has done a superb job in providing vaccine access, but there was a recognition that, due to barriers such as lack of transportation, families of color and of lower socioeconomic status were not getting vaccinated at the rates of other groups.

Community members, along with local churches and businesses, also are helping out, while Ledge Light Health District is providing the group with information.

Davis said the pandemic highlighted the importance of social interaction. While a lot of disconnect has occurred throughout the pandemic, it also mobilized people. “One of the things we felt we could do is mobilize people who have developed relationships with families and really speak to them,” he said.

By going door to door and talking directly with people and asking questions, group members hope to build awareness of the vaccine and educate the community. They also want to get a better understanding of what some of the concerns are and gather feedback that they can then share with Ledge Light and other organizations to help expand access and help address barriers.

For example, is it misinformation? They plan to share accurate information about the vaccine to help families make informed decisions. Is it lack of access to technology? They can help families sign up for appointments. If transportation is a concern, the group wants to look at helping people get to vaccine appointments.

The group also hopes to work with employers so they are more understanding that people may need to take some time off.

The town’s committee, the Groton DEI Collaborative, not only wanted to show support for the schools’ DEI Committee, but also believes that the awareness campaign is incredibly important, especially for underserved populations, said Jessica Patterson, a member of the Groton DEI Collaborative.

Ledge Light Health District Deputy Director Jennifer Muggeo applauded the group’s efforts to connect neighbors with fact-based information.

She said Ledge Light is working to connect people who may face barriers to vaccinations with appointments, including on-site clinics and neighborhood pop-up clinics, such as the one on Tuesday that the health district is organizing with the City of Groton.

She said the district is committed to addressing barriers people may face, whether that’s needing to register for an appointment in Spanish or by phone or needing help with transportation. The district also is working to hold clinics at different locations at different times of the day so people can easily schedule a vaccine appointment around their work or daily schedule.

“We want to make sure that everybody in our community can get vaccinated,” she said.

k.drelich@theday.com

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