Horry County ranks high in vaccination rate, but small communities still lagging

Published: Aug. 26, 2021 at 7:59 PM EDT
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MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - A dashboard published at the beginning of the summer is being used to find those pockets of need in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

The Vaccine Reach and Local Vulnerability dashboard was developed for DHEC’s CARE Panels, localized groups of community health leaders who are tasked with recommending how best to get the message out to underserved communities and identifying gaps in vaccine allocation.

The map shows not only where the most people are vaccinated, but also gives more understanding into the challenges that some communities are facing, by identifying levels of social vulnerabilities.

The Social Vulnerability Index essentially ranks different factors that could make a community more vulnerable to a health crisis, like the pandemic.

Those are things like level of transportation access and types of housing; minority populations or those with language barriers; and other socioeconomic factors.

Although Horry County has one of the highest vaccination rates in the state at 51%, there are plenty of communities within it that have low vaccination rates and varying levels of vulnerability.

The zip code 29527, for example, is a diverse community with regions of both low and high vaccination rates. Some parts of the area also have a higher minority population and/or language barriers. Though correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation, it can help point to where health leaders should go next with bringing vaccine access and information.

Lesli McGee serves as McLeod Health’s Senior Vice President of Continuum Care. She’s also a part of the DHEC’s Pee Dee CARE Panel, which covers both the Grand Strand and rural inland counties.

The panel has had access to this type of data since the start of the rollout, but only until recently has it been published in a more publicly accessible way.

“It’s basically access to data that will help us to know where to drive our efforts,” McGee said. “We are not fully vaccinated anywhere in the Pee Dee region. So we’ve got opportunity everywhere. But it definitely helps you to know where you could go to work first, to be able to get people up to some baseline.”

Dr. Nancy Ofendo Reyes, a professor at Horry Georgetown Technical College, says some of that work being done is identifying different communication methods needed for these more vulnerable populations.

As a member of the Pee Dee CARE Panel, Ofendo Reyes said as the rollout continued, they started bringing more materials into grocery stores, because that’s where non-English speaking groups might be more likely to see it.

“I’m hopeful that - and our numbers for vaccinations are going up again, and that is a very good thing,” she said. “My wish is that it’s not going to be too late.”

Ofenda Reyes said another suggested method to get the message to underserved communities was by supplying information in technical and community colleges so that students can share that information with their parents.

McGee said they want to work to constantly help accurate and adequate information is available to those who are on the fence.

“You have to communicate and tailor your communication locations, methods, and who’s delivering them, according to your audience,” McGee said. “Understanding that we have rural health communities that we serve, recognizing that those rural health communities may represent people with lower health literacy levels - we have to make sure that the information is available, that it’s trustworthy, that they trust the person who’s delivering that information.”

McLeod Health also provides an online form where you can ask the team a COVID-19 or vaccine-related question.

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