Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley said COVID vaccinations in the county’s most vulnerable ZIP codes increased by 80 percent after all adults were given eligibility to be vaccinated on March 22.
That’s the day the state Department of Health Services (DHS) made many people with health conditions such as diabetes or immune disorders eligible to be vaccinated. Working with the DHS and City of Milwaukee authorities, Crowley identified 10 ZIP codes to make all adults eligible with the rationale that many people in those areas lack regular access to healthcare and may have underlying health issues they don’t know about.
“We made sure to track the data, and we were looking at who was receiving these vaccines and who wasn’t. We were able to see that there were certain zip codes, certain areas throughout Milwaukee County, (that) had historically been underserved in the healthcare fields,” Crowley said in an interview for the Madison365 Daily Update, broadcast on Madison365’s Facebook page at 4 pm every weekday afternoon. “Many individuals in these zip codes may not have even known if they had a preexisting condition or a chronic illness, because they haven’t had the ability to actually go see a doctor.”
Making all adults in those areas eligible for vaccination was only the first step, Crowley said.
“Eligibility doesn’t mean accessibility. Those are two different things,” he said.
Crowley said a first step was to open drop-in vaccine clinics at North Division and South Division High Schools, where no appointment was necessary.
“We’re slowly seeing success. But we know that there’s more that we have to do,” he said. “We’re working with a Community Resilience team, grassroots organizations, internal and external partners, to figure out how do we get more boots on the ground to be able to reach those hard to reach populations. Or those who still are looking for information, and being able to give the information to them with trusted voices. I would say that it has been successful, but we know that we still have a long way to go in making sure that those who have been historically marginalized, have access to this life-saving medicine.”
Crowley said he understands why some members of marginalized communities might not trust the vaccine.
“When you think about black and brown communities in historical context as it relates to healthcare policy or healthcare providers, we don’t necessarily have the best history,” he said.
That’s why it’s critical to help people understand the vaccine in order to make an informed decision — and to convey that information through voices the community can trust.
In many ways, the county’s vaccination push is the next step for an infrastructure that was built a year ago to get people tested.
“Some of the first things that we did with our (federal) CARES Act dollars last year, particularly before the vaccine came, (was) just getting people tested. We needed people to go to whatever community site, go to their healthcare provider to get tested. And with this Community Resilience team, made up of both internal and external partners, grassroots organizations, who can reach many of these people at the grassroots level, literally boots on the ground. We’ve also created a We Care Crew to work within our Parks Department and work with many different partnerships with our foundations, with our nonprofits, to really be able to give them the tools, whether we’re talking about masks, whether we talk about hand sanitizer. But also the information related to the COVID-19, how it spreads, in the best way to protect yourselves in this community. As a person leading county government, I know that not everybody is going to look at us for all the answers. But it’s important for us, that when we think about who needs to be at the table, that we have trusted voices at the table, who can go into certain communities that they have the trust with. And being able to have good dialogue and great conversations about why this is really important, so people can make the best decision.”
Crowley urged anyone looking for a vaccine appointment or more information about the vaccines to visit http://healthymke.com.