LIMA — Maxine Dillard often finds herself chatting with strangers about the Covid-19 vaccines, visiting bars, dollar stores, churches and barbershops around Lima in the hopes that a personal conversation will persuade those who are nervous or skeptical that the vaccines are a safe and essential path out of the pandemic.
Dillard stops to talk with whoever is willing to listen, leaving behind fliers about free at-home Covid-19 tests or vaccine clinics in places where people may not have access to reliable information about the virus and vaccines.
“We want to make sure that you have all the information you need to make a sound decision,” said Dillard, who was hired by Mercy Health-St. Rita’s this spring to help address emerging disparities in vaccine uptake among African-Americans.
While roughly one in four adults in Allen County has been fully or partially vaccinated against the coronavirus since December, only one in six Black residents here have received at least one shot in that time, according to Ohio Department of Health data.
Allen County Public Health is drafting a plan to improve equity and reach vulnerable populations who have not yet been vaccinated, one of several initiatives underway to ensure minority communities aren’t left behind.
A pop-up clinic hosted by Health Partners of Western Ohio at Philippian Missionary Baptist Church in March saw around 200 people vaccinated, roughly 35% of whom were African-American, at a time when people were waiting a week or more for an appointment at the Bradfield Community Center, said Elizabeth West, chief operations officer for Health Partners.
A similar clinic was held at Heir Force Community School, which Beth Keehn, director of government and community affairs for Mercy Health-St. Rita’s, said was more accessible for people who felt uncomfortable visiting the hospital’s main vaccination site.
Dillard started taking calls from people who couldn’t navigate the process, finding rides or appointments close to home and filling out registration forms for those who don’t have a computer.
But Dillard, a member of Second Baptist Church who retired from the Ford Lima Engine Plant, also took her outreach into the community, talking about her cousins and friends who got seriously ill or died of Covid-19.
“You just talk about what you know,” she said. “Not guessing, but what you know.”