Healthy Savannah, YMCA launch program to help with vaccine hesitancy among minorities

Published: Jul. 22, 2021 at 6:02 AM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - There are more than 130,000 people with at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Chatham County.

While health professionals want that number to be higher, Healthy Savannah and the YMCA of Coastal Georgia are taking a closer look at the disparities among certain groups in the community. The main goals are access, awareness and understanding the COVID-19 vaccines to minority communities in the Coastal Empire, and they hope to do this by word of mouth.

According to the CDC, nationwide , the breakdown is pretty jarring. 60 percent of the vaccines given out have been to white residents, while only 17 percent have gone to Hispanic residents and 12 percent to black residents.

In Chatham County, 52 percent of residents with at least one dose are white, 29 percent are black, 4 percent are Hispanic, and 5 percent are Asian.

Dr. Elsie Smalls from Healthy Savannah says there are a variety of factors of why we’re seeing vaccine hesitancy in those communities, but it’s crucial to get everyone vaccinated.

“Our main focus is working with black and brown communities, as it relates to Covid and many other things. Those communities are hit the hardest, they are the ones that typically have some vaccine acceptance issues and definitely grounded in some stuff that has happened in the past,” said Dr. Elsie Smalls, Operations Manager for Healthy Savannah.

They hope to boost numbers for those who want to get vaccinated but also, if they do not wish to get vaccinated, the group wants to let them know how to stay safe and alleviate any misconceptions about the vaccine and it’s safety concerns.

Healthy Savannah and the YMCA of the Coastal Empire received a grant from the CDC to launch this new campaign.

They’re inviting the community to come to the African American Health Information and Resource Center on Thursday, July 22 to hear from minorities. Also, they could get paid to share their experience and encourage others to get vaccinated.

They hope to gather about 65 health advocates who will complete a short training and then be in charge of planning an activity that helps spread the word about the vaccine in their own neighborhoods and community circles. Once complete, they will receive a $500 stipend for helping.

Healthy Savannah hopes this effort will address the disparities among minority communities in Chatham County.

“Our focus is engaging people in the community, having conversations and hearing what is important to them. Who they want to hear it from, how they want to hear it because sometimes we form messaging or create a campaign that may not resonate with the folks that we are trying to reach so that is the purpose of having these listening sessions so that our approach is grounded in community,” said Dr. Smalls.

Accessibility to the vaccine is still a concern for many minority groups even though the vaccine is available to everyone. And timing and transportation are still issues for some.

If you have ideas and want to take part, the listening session will start Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at the African American Health Information and Resource Center. There will be limited seating so if you are interested in attending or have additional questions about the program, please email Elsie Smalls at

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