Dominique Mack, like many in this community, has seen in recent weeks a steady stream of heartbreaking news related to the worsening pandemic conditions in Glynn County.
As COVID-19 case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths have spiked in the past few weeks, more and more people in Mack’s circle have posted on social media and shared stories about lost loved ones and alarming firsthand accounts describing what’s happening inside local hospitals.
A news headline last week, about a mobile morgue coming into Brunswick to serve the hospital, rang alarm bells that prompted Mack to act.
She quickly tapped into the network of community partners with whom she works daily as executive director Family Connection Glynn, a collaborative body that includes representatives from state and local agencies, nonprofits, faith-based groups and businesses.
The result, put in motion late last week, is a massive vaccine coordination effort that will target the community’s most vulnerable and unvaccinated by debunking myths surrounding the vaccine and making clinics as accessible as possible.
“I knew that we had to come together and do something about it,” Mack said. “I know that we had a lot of individual efforts going along, but I didn’t really see where all of us were working together and sharing a unified message about vaccinations in particular.”
Local health officials reported 192 deaths related to COVID-19 in Glynn County as of Tuesday. More than 30 people have died from COVID-19 in Glynn County so far this month.
Southeast Georgia Health System was serving 166 patients sick with COVID-19 this weekend.
And this week, Glynn County Schools announced the district will go completely virtual Monday and keep buildings closed to students through Sept. 10 due to the rise in infections among students and staff.
Among those who Mack contacted first to organize the massive vaccination effort was LaTanya Abbott-Austin, who oversees community outreach and marketing for Coastal Community Health Services. The healthcare organization operates a mobile health unit that has been making constant rounds throughout Glynn County and surrounding areas to provide COVID-19 testing and vaccines.
“Dominique and I started talking about all the deaths of friends and family of friends we know in Glynn County,” Abbott-Austin said. “Every single day we see new posts on social media offering prayers and condolences for COVID-related deaths of young adults and elderly adults. A daughter of one friend of mine lost both of her grandmothers in 24 hours. There are multiple stories of families losing two to three family members hours or days apart. It’s just too much death, especially when we have vaccines that are proven to save lives and/or lessen the severity of the illness if a breakthrough infection occurs.”
Glynn County’s vaccination rate currently lingers just above the 40% benchmark. Many factors can be attributed to the relatively low rate. An issue locally, though, is misinformation and misunderstandings among those who have not yet been vaccinated, Mack said.
Leaders from Family Connection, United Way of Coastal Georgia, Safe Harbor Center, Coastal Community Health Services, Coastal Georgia Area Community Action Authority and the Department of Public Health participated in a meeting last week to begin the coordinated vaccination effort.
The goal is to offer free, mass vaccination events for residents of Glynn County and the surrounding area to stop the spread of COVID-19 and save people from dying from the virus, Abbott-Austin said.
“Our collective overall plan and goals are for several healthcare, human services, nonprofit organizations as well as concerned citizens to all band our knowledge, time, energy and resources together with the goal to save lives,” Abbott-Austin said. “… We are purposely targeting African American residents that have a long history of distrust of the healthcare system and government due to a history of unfair and inhuman practices toward African Americans being used for research without consent in the past.”
The plan is to canvas neighborhoods with the support of local organizations like fraternities and sororities and to target vulnerable communities, including Black and Hispanic neighborhoods with lower vaccination rates.
Coordinators hope to educate residents of these communities about the effectiveness of vaccines.
“We believe that that’s the missing link — the information and education,” Mack said.
The second intent of the effort will be to bring vaccines to those who still need them. This means getting creative about where to set up vaccine clinics, Mack said.
“We hope to bring more vaccines to different spots like Russell’s Sports Bar, to the Housing Authority, to the barbershops, to some of the school drop off locations,” she said. “… We were thinking, what are some of diverse locations where can just bring the mobile unit out and help our community?”
The coordination effort will also include outreach training for those who go out into neighborhoods with vaccine information as well as the creation of new marketing materials that aim to debunk myths around the vaccines and provide facts and dates for clinics.
“We’re trying to make sure it’s as transparent as possible, and we want to also get some of our folks who are from the low to moderate income areas to hire them as outreach workers so they can empower themselves and be their own advocates,” Mack said.
A unified calendar of clinics will be created and shared.
“That way we know when all those little pop-up places are happening,” Mack said.
Plans are moving forward as quickly and efficiently as possible, Abbott-Austin said.
“Time is of the essence with us,” she said. “We are planning to have our first ‘pop-up’ event very soon.”
She hopes this effort will save many lives.
“It breaks my heart seeing children being orphaned and families being devastated by loss of loved ones,” Abbott-Austin said.
Those interested in being a vaccine pop-up site or in doing outreach can contact Mack at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We started coordinating last week literally immediately because we knew we can’t wait,” Mack said.