By J. K. Schmid
Special to the AFRO

Park Heights, one of several communities in Baltimore City lagging in COVID vaccinations, continues its campaign.

As temperatures drop and winter approaches, flu vaccinations have also become another priority. COVID infections make the infected more vulnerable to flu and vice-versa.

Park Heights Renaissance, a community revitalization organization, has gathered resources, partners and stakeholders at Langston Hughes Community Center to provide first, second and booster COVID shots, as well as flu shots.

“We will still be continuing as we need in the community, we hold anywhere between 10 and 25 clinics a week,” Michelle Peralta, one of the Baltimore City Health Department COVID-19 mobile vaccine clinic program managers, told the AFRO. 

These clinics will continue to roam communities like Park Heights, all across the city.

“Everything from a community center, outside of barbershops and salons, we hold them at festivals, we’re holding them at elementary and high schools,” Ms. Peralta said. “With the pediatrics being allowed and kids coming back to school, that’s where our focus was for the past couple of months, now we’re moving into senior housing, getting them their additional doses and booster shots.”

Delivering the vaccines are healthcare providers from Ascension Saint Agnes.

“Today, we’re working in partnership with Park Heights Renaissance to provide vaccines for the community,” Olivia Farrow, community engagement director, Ascension Saint Agnes said. “For the past eight months or so, we have been partnering on our COVID vaccine with the City Health Department. They provide registration, some outreach and additional staff around outreach.”

Ms. Farrow said Ascension Saint Agnes brought in a clinician to provide flu vaccinations.

Flu cases are at historic lows across the country, social distancing and masking are the most likely culprits.

“Flu was very low last year, but with people taking off their masks now, we don’t want to see a potential where flu is circulating, and of course we know COVID is still circulating,” Ms. Farrow said. “So, we just want to make sure everyone is protected against both viruses.”

“I’m getting my booster shot,” Yolanda Jiggetts, executive director at Park Heights Renaissance, told the AFRO.

“It was fine. Little pinch,” Ms. Jiggetts said of the shot. The AFRO continued to talk with her during her 15-minute observation period.

“There’ s been lots of activities in the community, all summer,” Ms. Jiggetts said. “We’ve been trying different partners, University of Maryland, Sinai, now, Saint Agnes and the health department, we’re taking whoever we can, because we really do still have a low vaccine rate in Park Heights. We’re really trying.”

Fifty-eight percent of Baltimore City is fully vaccinated, per RecordOnline’s COVID vaccination tracker. Baltimore City reported that 71% of city residents have their first dose or single dose vaccine. Pushing in, 42% of Park Heights residents have their first dose or single dose of vaccine.

“Today’s event was meant to target the youth, it’s for everyone, but we’re really trying to get them to come out and feel courageous enough to get the vaccine,” Ms. Jiggetts said. “So that they can be safe and we can begin to socialize a little bit more, without feeling too afraid, even though we’re always going to be cautious.”

Courage in the face of fear is one of the many roadblocks Ms. Jiggetts sees in the way of getting her community fully vaccinated.

“So, I think that there’s many different reasons,” Ms. Jiggetts said. “A lot of it is education around ‘is it really safe?’ Particularly, with the young people, there’s a lot of skepticism around what’s on social media, there’s a lot of myths.”

“And then, honestly, there’s some history of African-American communities feeling as if the health industry has not always been as forthright about testing and things like that.”

“It’s a lot of different things. And I think it’s just a national trend of really still, ‘it’s not gonna happen to me.’”

What does a community need to get vaccinated? Door-knockers? Canvassers? Advocates?

“I think we need it all,” Ms. Jiggetsts said. “And this is a large community. This is one of the largest urban renewal areas, probably in the country. So, We have 30,000-plus residents in our catchment area. Just here.

“So, if we’re reaching a good number of people, it’s just so many. And we need all that we can.”

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