Connecticut is just days away from opening COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to any adult over the age of 16. With eligibility expanding, community leaders in New London are working to make sure access expands as well.
“We need to make sure that we are inviting and welcoming people in to be vaccinated," said Jennifer Muggeo, deputy director of Ledge Light Health District. LLHD serves nine towns in southeastern CT, including the City of New London.
New London is considered one of 50 "priority zip codes" for vaccine roll out. The state used the CDC's social vulnerability index (SVI) to determine those communities. The index measures things like transportation, poverty and housing to determine risk.
Governor Ned Lamont has a goal of administering at least 25% of available vaccine supply to residents living in the priority zip codes.
“Many people don’t have transportation, they don’t have the internet, they don’t speak English. It is our obligation," said Jeanne Milstein, New London's director of human services.
“Only when the folks who lack access to all of the things that are needed to be able to achieve the most healthiest life, only when those needs are addressed can the entire community be healthy," said Stephanye Clarke, a member of the local health equity collaborative and chair of New London NAACP's Health Committee.
Clarke says it is important that anyone who decides they want a vaccine is able to access an appointment.
“And we have to acknowledge that the way that our systems are structured make it easier for some folks to make that decision than for others," added Muggeo. "Our work is really centered on tearing down those barriers that people may face.”
The City of New London set up a local help line. It is available for English and Spanish speakers. The phone number is 860-437-6394.
“We will help them register (for an appointment) over the phone. We will provide transportation," said Milstein. "It is full court press.”
Milstein said that community outreach is key. The city is also working with community partners, like churches, to get the word out.
"That intentionality is important," said Clarke.
Another important piece of the puzzle is the location of vaccine clinics.
LLHD hosts clinics throughout their region. They say they are strategic about where they host them.
“We have had several clinics here at Jennings School in the heart of New London, where people can walk," said Muggeo.
LLHD is also able to coordinate with New London and the city's senior center to help people access transportation to clinics in other towns.
Because of the city's priority, the FEMA vaccine van will be making a stop in New London in early May, bringing vaccines directly to vulnerable neighborhoods.