MICHELLE SMITH: Reaching out to spread the COVID vaccine.

Here’s an uplifting story from The Guardian: It’s about an effort by historically Black fraternities and sororities to help get Black Arkansans vaccinated for COVID-19.

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The national experience has been that the minority community has been underserved in the vaccine rollout. It’s due in part to the familiar impediments to equal treatment — place of residence, income and other factors. There’s also resistance to vaccinations among Black Americans on account of distrust of the medical establishment (think the Tuskegee experiments).

The story starts with a Cotton Plant native, Wanda King, who was trying to help older people in that small community, which has no pharmacy. She turned to an Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority sister, Michelle Smith, director of the office of health equity and HIV elimination at the Arkansas Department of Health.

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Help soon came to Cotton Plant in a clinic held with the help of a Brinkley pharmacy that administered 180 shots.

The clinic in Cotton Plant is part of a broader effort by the state health department and Arkansas chapters of historically Black sororities and fraternities, known as the Divine Nine, working together to get Black Arkansans vaccinated. Through the partnership, hundreds have gotten their shots so far.

The article mentions that the Health Department is compiling data on racial distribution of vaccine to date.

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Access was the biggest barrier, Smith says. Most couldn’t get on a vaccine waiting list or didn’t know how to get an appointment. That many vaccine appointments are being scheduled online was another problem, since broadband internet access is lacking in parts of rural Arkansas.

After identifying who needed a vaccine, Smith contacted pharmacies around the state and asked them to devote vaccination slots to these individuals. So far, nearly 500 people have been vaccinated thanks to the Black sororities and fraternities’ efforts, and they have held clinics across the state.

Beverly Cook, the Arkansas state director of Zeta Phi Beta sorority, says she has helped sign people up for vaccine appointments, and afterwards, she sends thank-you notes to those who got vaccinated.