From the County Manager Column from June 1, 2021

Targeted vaccination push to lowest-rate areas begins today

Looking across Minnesota at its 87 counties, we can feel very good here in Ramsey County at having one of the leading rates of COVID-19 vaccination. More than 70% of those eligible for the vaccine (12 and older) have now received at least one dose. Broad vaccination of residents is our number one tool to keep families healthy and to bring an end to this pandemic. 

Since the first vaccine became available in December, we’ve offered clinics across the county and publicized them – and vaccinations generally – through a sustained campaign for residents. Overall, we’ve had success – providing nearly 51,000 doses through 200+ clinics organized by our Public Health department. We have aligned with federal and state communications resources to drive vaccinations countywide through all providers (health care, pharmacies, community clinics) while tailoring promotion and engagement for our Ramsey County population – the most diverse in the state.

However, week-over-week rates of vaccination are slowing and some areas in the county continue to lag significantly behind others. So, beginning today we are making a significant investment in community outreach and engagement to supercharge our efforts and help drive us toward the finish line.

Our Racial Equity & Community Engagement Response Team (RECERT) has developed a three-part plan with Public Health and Communications & Public Relations that launches today to promote opportunities for vaccination for residents who have traditionally faced racial and health inequities. The first part of the plan to roll out is a culturally focused and diverse multi-channel, multi-lingual advertising campaign promoting vaccination, heavily focused on racially and ethnically diverse community media. Later this week, we’ll initiate contracts with the COVID-19 Trusted Cultural Community Messengers and Connectors (TCCMCs) – trusted individuals and organizations from the Black, Asian, Latino/a, American Indian, African Born and other underrepresented communities who will help us to connect with people more directly and work to overcome barriers to vaccination. Finally, we’ll increase the number of targeted clinics in these communities in the weeks ahead.

For the $300,000 advertising plan, we are heavily focused in three ZIP codes – 55130, 55106 and 55103 – that continue to trail behind vaccination rates of other areas in the county. Messages in several languages will drive awareness of free vaccine availability at ramseycounty.us/CovidVaccine and companion translated webpages. Messages will be everywhere, from billboards and gas stations in these ZIP codes to local community cable television, radio and websites to targeted social media and apps.

As our COVID-19 Trusted Cultural Community Messengers and Connectors come online, we will begin partnering with select trusted community members and/or community agencies to provide accurate and timely COVID-19 vaccine education, outreach, recruitment and connections to county and community vaccine sites and resources through July, with June being the immediate focus.

This partnership with the Connectors will build on the trusting relationships, their credibility and familiarity in the communities in which they live and work. It is important to start with a recognition that it is us, as an institution, that must take active steps to address the lingering concerns or structural access barriers faced by individuals in our community. “Government” is often generally distrusted and dismissed – often due to disparate treatment, access and outcomes that are linked to race, as well as income and geography. The seeds of inequity were sown long before COVID-19, and we see the impacts of that inequity today as we strive to ensure everyone across Ramsey County is protected. Connectors provide opportunities for a new opening in the discussion and consideration of why vaccination is the key method to keep families and communities safe.  

As we continue monitoring where we see gaps in vaccination rates, we’ll site new clinics in locations for no-barrier physical access. Lack of access to transportation and work schedules are examples of barriers that are preventing some from getting vaccinated. In addition to general information, Community Connectors will be able to help work through these types of barriers with individuals and families and provide the best option – whether that’s a clinic run by our Public Health department or finding an appointment at a local pharmacy.

The main emphasis for this turbo-charged effort will be in June and July. We’re going to remain flexible and nimble, though, if more resources are needed to bring every area of our county to a level where a vast majority of residents are vaccinated.

I want to emphasize again that we have a lot to be proud in terms of our vaccination efforts and results. Since the first doses of COVID-19 vaccine have become available, we have worked planfully and effectively to distribute our supply to meet the federal and state guidance while ensuring that supplies are distributed equitably across the diversity of our communities. As we head into this summertime stretch, with plenty of vaccine supply available and recently approved for those 12 years and older, now is the time to apply all available resources to focus on making sure we are doing our part to make sure that anyone who can be is vaccinated so we can end this pandemic.

Masking and other strategies we've been following for many months have also continued to help slow the spread and keep our community healthy. As we push hard through this effort to vaccinate as many people as possible in these next weeks and face covering mandates near their end, we know this period of change and uncertainty has not been easy on our community or employees. Thanks again for sticking with us and your patience and grace through this time