Pa. Health Dept., advocates launch statewide vaccination tour to reach underserved communities

    George Fernandez, founder and CEO of the advocacy organization Latino Connection, speaks during a news conference on Monday, 4/12/21. (Screen Capture)

    With all adult Pennsylvanians set to become eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday, state health officials and community leaders announced they’re launching a statewide tour to educate underserved communities about the vaccine and to make sure they get the jab.

    “We’re delivering the vaccines where they’re needed the most,” George Fernandez, the founder and CEO of the advocacy group Latino Connection, which is sponsoring the tour, said during a news conference on Monday.

    A total of 120 mobile vaccination events will take place across the commonwealth in the coming months, Fernandez said. The tour vehicle, known as CATE, for “Community-Accessible Testing, Education,” previously had been used to administer COVID-19 tests.

    “To solve healthcare inequality … we need to meet our people where we are,” Fernandez added.

    Public health officials have spent weeks trying to allay fears about the vaccine among communities of color. While officials have stressed that the vaccine is safe and reliable, mistrust about the vaccine, based on years of disparities in access to care and other equity issues, have made that process difficult.

    “The vaccines are safe, they are effective, and we, alongside the Latino Connection, are working to make sure everyone has access to reliable information,” acting state Health Secretary Alison Beam said.

    • TO LEARN MORE: Visit CateMobileUnit.com for information and to pre-register for a vaccine appointment.

    The statewide bus tour launched Monday will include informational materials in Spanish and other languages aimed at educating people about the vaccine and assuaging those fears, officials said Monday.

    “This will ensure everyone has a fair opportunity to be as healthy as possible,” Dr. Oralia Dominic, a medical policy research analyst at Highmark Blue Shield, which, along with the state, is providing funding for the effort, said Monday. “This mobile unit will help remove language and access for barriers  … for vulnerable populations and … in the communities they live in.”

    On Monday, the Wolf administration announced that all adults in Pennsylvania who want the vaccine could begin scheduling their appointments on Tuesday, a full week ahead of the April 19 timetable that state rolled out at the end of March.  

    Vaccine providers in the commonwealth have administered more than 6 million vaccines, according to Department of Health data. Pennsylvanians can find providers on the state’s COVID-19 Vaccine Provider Map here.

    John L. Micek
    A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press