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Baltimore County to deploy mobile unit in areas with low COVID-19 vaccination rates

Baltimore County officials announced Tuesday the county will use a new way to reach neighborhoods with low vaccination rates: a mobile vaccine center.

The mobile outreach unit will be staffed by Baltimore County Department of Health employees and will deliver shots — and information about the vaccines — in ZIP codes where data shows residents have been affected disproportionately by COVID-19 and have lower vaccination rates, said county Health Officer Dr. Gregory Wm. Branch.

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Officials hope the mobile clinic will serve between 150 and 200 residents each shift it is sent out. The county will rely on community leaders and social media announcements to advise residents on when and where the mobile clinic will be available, Branch said.

The program is funded by $60,000 in federal coronavirus relief money, according to the Health Department.

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Baltimore County has started to see a “shift in demand,” Branch said during a press conference. Over the weekend, officials said, there were unfilled appointment slots for the first time at the state’s mass vaccination site at the Timonium fairgrounds, which the county also operates.

About 42% of county residents had received their first dose as of April 27. Nearly 29% have gotten a second dose, according to data made public by the county.

The county does not make public statistics on who has received a vaccine or areas where residents have been slower to get a shot. The county’s seven-day average testing positivity rate was 6.07% Tuesday, higher than the state’s 4.04% average.

The World Health Organization last year recommended state and local governments aim for a positivity rate below 5% before relaxing any pandemic-related restrictions.

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The county did not provide more detail on where or how often the Mobile Outreach Unit will be sent out, although health department spokeswoman Elyn Garrett-Jones said it will be deployed in the coming weeks.

Generally, Branch said, neighborhoods with higher concentrations of Black and other minority residents “is where you’re gonna find” lower vaccination rates.

“The success of a excellent vaccine campaign is seen in and measured by not only the vaccines that you put in everybody’s arms, but specifically the vaccines you put into Black and brown arms,” Branch said.

Officials say the mobile outreach unit is another tool in the county’s efforts to reach those who have been most vulnerable to the coronavirus but may lack the means to make appointments or are hesitant to get a shot.

The county began setting up vaccination clinics in Randallstown, Essex, Lansdowne and Turner Station in early February. That month officials announced a partnership with the Uber ride share service, and began scheduling and covering the cost of Uber rides to vaccine clinics for those without transportation options.

There are no immediate plans to add more mobile outreach units, according to Garrett-Jones.

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