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Community Organizers Bring COVID Vaccination Efforts Door-to-Door

Vaccination Campaign In D.C. Offers A Free Beer In Exchange For Getting Shot

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • To increase vaccination rates, organizations across the U.S. are going door-to-door to share information about the vaccines.
  • Some groups help people sign up for vaccine appointments, offer rides to clinics and dispel misinformation.
  • In some states and localities, health departments offer in-home vaccination, which is key for people unable to leave their homes.

When Charlene Voorhies knocks on the doors of people in her hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana, people often tell her that they’ve been vaccinated to get her off their doorstep.

After digging a little deeper, she finds that people are often nervous about the COVID-19 vaccine or unsure of how to find a clinic. Some of them simply haven't made the time to schedule an appointment.

Voorhies works with Vaccine Equity Project, an initiative through Together LA to increase vaccination rates among the least protected communities in Louisiana. The organization is one of many community programs that have cropped up in recent months to canvass neighborhoods with low vaccination rates.

These efforts, which involve sharing information about why and where to get a COVID-19 vaccine, are largely time-intensive and volunteer-driven. 

Amid a flurry of lotteries and giveaways to incentivize unvaccinated people, some are betting that going door-to-door will be a more effective and personable approach. 

Dubbing the vaccination campaign as a "wartime effort," President Joe Biden called for canvassing in addition to creating clinics at workplaces and urging employers to offer paid time off for vaccination.

“We need to go to community by community, neighborhood by neighborhood and, oftentimes, door to door — literally knocking on doors — to get help to the remaining people protected from the virus,” Biden said during a speech earlier this month.

Around 68% American adults have had at least one shot of COVID-19 vaccine as of July 19. In some states, the vaccination rate is as low as 33%. With the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant, transmission among the unvaccinated population is likely to continue to grow. 

Community organizers say that people who need an extra nudge often benefit from getting science-based information about the vaccines or support in navigating vaccine clinics. Most groups are focused on creating personal connections and building a rapport that gets lost in mass outreach initiatives.

“I think that's what makes the difference—that personal attention when someone comes to your door to say, ‘You're my neighbor and I care enough about you and our neighborhood. And I'm willing to take the time to come to you.’” Voorhies says. 

When unvaccinated people make a commitment to a canvasser to get vaccinated, they are more likely to follow through, she adds.

What This Means For You

In some cities and states, you can request an in-home vaccination if you cannot travel to a vaccine clinic. Reach out to public health or social justice advocacy groups in your area to learn more about door-to-door vaccination efforts near you.

Community Canvassers Are Well Suited for the Work

In many states, public health departments partner with community organizations, tapping into their experience of canvassing for other issues. 

In southwest Detroit, the city government approached Congress of Communities, which supports leaders working on civic and social issues. Maria Salinas, director of the group, then asked Amanda Holiday, LMSW to lead the vaccine canvassing efforts.

Holiday, an early childhood specialist and community organizer at Congress of Communities, tells Verywell that having Spanish- and Arabic-speaking volunteers is extremely important for the door-to-door campaign in Detroit.

Action NC in North Carolina is a group that tackles social justice issues, like advocating for affordable housing and registering people to vote. With the knowledge and infrastructure the group has developed when canvassing for other causes, Robert Dawkins, political director at Action NC, says canvassers are well-suited to knock doors for COVID-19 vaccination.

Increasing Vaccine Accessibility

A major barrier in getting vaccinated is lacking convenient access to a clinic, organizers say. Once the large vaccination sites were shut down, organizers sought to connect people with smaller clinics in their communities.

For instance, an older man in North Carolina didn’t have a car and found that he wasn’t able to easily travel there on the bus. In semi-urban and rural spaces, traveling to vaccine clinics can be a lengthy and tedious process.

“He said he was so happy because he had been putting it off—he wasn't as much concerned about the vaccine. It was just the accessibility,” Dawkins says.

In recent months, states have begun offering vaccinations to people who are unable to travel to a vaccine clinic. New York City now offers in-home vaccination for anyone aged above 12 and people can choose their vaccine preference. In Chicago, anyone who opts for in-home vaccination will receive a $50 gift card from GrubHub.

Some groups offer cheap or free rides to vaccine clinics, hotlines for people who want to speak with a nurse or other medical professional about the vaccine, and extra information about the importance of the vaccine.

“You take [one area] at a time and you canvas that neighborhood and eliminate whatever barriers or whatever hesitations that they might have, in order to get them vaccinated,” Dawkins says.

Fighting Vaccine Misinformation

The organizers have heard a slough of conspiracy theories that link the vaccines to infertility, long-term "zombie-like" side effects, and sudden deaths. Dawkins says some people want to wait until the vaccine moves beyond its emergency use authorization and is fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

“It's very hard to fight misinformation with the truth when it's being spread on social media,” Dawkins says.

For those who refuse the vaccine, canvassers may just leave them some information in case they want to learn more and instead focus their attention on others who seem more open-minded.

Dawkins says Action NC will keep trying to provide vaccines at people’s homes. If that program falls flat, though, the organization will continue to support people in finding vaccine clinics and fight misinformation.

“We’re going to keep doing that until COVID is no longer a threat,” Dawkins says. 

Voorhies says she encourages her canvassers to keep chipping away at certain groups, like home-bound seniors who need assistance accessing clinics and stubborn 20- and 30-year-olds who may be heavily influenced by social media misinformation. 

Oftentimes, Voorhies says, people are receiving pressure from family, friends or medical providers to get the shot. Getting a knock on the door from someone on her team can be the final push that gets them to the clinic. If not, their conversations can at least plant the seeds for future vaccine consideration.

 “I have to keep them inspired to keep up,” Voorhies says. “It's good work.”

 The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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Article Sources
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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 Data Tracker. Updated July 19, 2021

  2. Alabama Public Health. Alabama’s COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Dashboard. Updated July 20, 2021.