In May 2021, Yuhnis Syndor, 57, knocked on doors around West Philadelphia for several weeks, on a mission to save lives. He is a canvasser in the West Philadelphia Vaccine Street Team Pilot Program, part of a cohort that included graduate students, retirees, block captains and health care and hospitality workers. Each of them had personally been affected by COVID-19 in some way, were good listeners and believed in the value of the vaccine. And they shared a sense of purpose: “They want to dispel misinformation and show their neighbors [vaccination] is safe, by example,” says Natalie Ramos-Castillo, the canvassing field director.
The team formed as a joint community initiative between Penn Medicine, Third District City Councilmember Jamie Gauthier, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Healthcare PA Training and Education Fund. The initiative grew out of a clear community need: Black West Philly residents were being vaccinated against COVID-19 at significantly lower rates than other racial groups in the city, consistent with the national trend of lower vaccination rates in Black communities.
In a city where Black residents make up 42% of the population, only 21% of vaccines went to Black residents as of earlier in the spring, when the initiative was starting. As of late June, more than half of white city residents had received at least one dose of vaccine, but only about one third of African American residents.
Ramping up COVID-19 vaccination efforts through a professional canvassing model, similar to that used for political and issues-based campaigning, was an idea proposed by Tarik Khan, a nurse practitioner studying for his doctorate at the Penn School of Nursing, and nonprofit executive director Matt Goldfine—both of whom committed months of volunteer labor to get that idea up and running.
Read more at Penn Medicine Service in Action.