FEMA Continues Community Outreach Efforts to Combat Vaccine Inequity in Philadelphia

Release Date Release Number
R3-21-NR-026
Release Date:
March 18, 2021

PHILADELPHIA – On March 3rd, 2021, FEMA Region 3, along with the City of Philadelphia, its federal partners, and volunteer organizations, opened a mass vaccination site at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. The goal of opening this site was to provide Philadelphia residents with a centralized location to receive their COVID-19 vaccination. The site’s central location in Philadelphia, buoyed by robust public transportation access, allows for residents from across the city to access the site. As designed, the Pennsylvania Convention Center vaccination site has the capability to vaccinate 6,000 Philadelphia residents per day. These doses are in addition to the weekly allocation given to the City of Philadelphia and not taken from the city’s allotment.

Before and during the planning process, FEMA Region 3, in conjunction and consultation with our partners, have adopted an aggressive strategy to promote the first step in receiving a COVID-19 vaccine: Registration. Along the way, FEMA Region 3 and its partners recognized that we could do more to address vaccine inequity as it pertains to doses delivered at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Through our support of such a new large-scale effort, and meeting the urgency of the moment, we have learned a lot and understand how to pivot accordingly. We recognized that our process was not a perfect one and our strategy needed to change to better reflect the diversity of Philadelphia. Because of that, for a 6-day period beginning on March 17th and running through March 22nd, the Pennsylvania Convention Center site began to accept walk-up appointments from Philadelphia’s 22 most underserved zip codes. Approximately 3,000 doses a day are set aside for walkup appointments.

Still, FEMA Region 3 and our partners have worked hard to do more. We have continued to improve through listening and working with state and local officials, faith-based organizations, and other community-based organizations. FEMA Region 3 began a first-in-the-nation type outreach campaign to address vaccine inequity in Philadelphia. This issue is not native to Philadelphia, and we understand that, but it is paramount that we do all we can to get this right.

FEMA Region 3, in preparation for and in response to vaccine inequity in Philadelphia, has done the following:

  • The process began by involving Philadelphia City Government, namely, Philadelphia City Council. FEMA Region 3 arranged for walkthrough’s for City Council members so they could see the operation first-hand. City Council, diverse by its own nature, took us up on that offer and have been a working partner to address concerns of their communities ever since.
  • FEMA Region 3 began a comprehensive media campaign to get the word out through radio, print, and television. FEMA Region 3 has carefully picked media outlets based off their audience, their reach to underserved communities, and their reach in general. To date, we have done interviews with all major television stations, arranged for walkthroughs with reporters, addressed media inquiries from print reporters, and conducted 14 radio interviews, played across 11 stations, to include delivery in both Spanish and Haitian-Creole.
  • FEMA Region 3 implemented a first-in-the-nation “Street Team” to walk the pavement and to date have engaged more than 240 businesses throughout the city’s most underserved and most populated neighborhoods. From corporate chains to corner stores, our vaccine interest flyer can be seen hanging in the windows of the most important small businesses in our communities. On that flyer is a QR Code that folks can scan with their phone that will send them directly to the Philadelphia vaccine registration website.
  • FEMA Region 3 established a first-in-the-nation geographic-specific Speaker’s Bureau so that neighborhoods in Philadelphia that want answers get answers directly from FEMA employees that live in their community. To date, we completed eight (8) Speaker’s Bureau events, confirmed seventeen (17) upcoming events, and are working with more than 50 other Registered Community Organizations or community leaders interested in an event or receiving vaccination information and tool kits. To date, 282 community organizations have received tool kits to share information with their community on the safety, efficacy, and facts about the COVID-19 vaccine. At these events, FEMA Region 3 has called community members who could not attend in-person and assisted with their vaccine registration over the phone.
  • FEMA Region 3 has developed public service announcements (PSA’s) which have been run by our partners over radio and are in development with two of Philadelphia’s professional sports teams. Additionally, FEMA Region 3 is working with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on paid media opportunities.
  • Recognizing that social media is a platform used by many, FEMA Region 3 has been chronicling Philadelphia’s vaccine journey through video and pictures and telling those stories over social media.

While some may see the above as merely bullet points on a news release, those working on the ground are lucky enough to hear the stories of those who finally, for the first time in nearly a year, feel safe, who feel that the return to normalcy is within reach. These mere bullet points have resulted in countless human stories to include the following few examples:

  • A woman shared a story with a team member at a community event FEMA Region 3 helped put together. The woman shared that she lost 14 friends and family members due to COVID over the last year. The woman was so stressed that she had a heart attack and was in the hospital for six days. She hasn’t seen her mom in South Carolina in two years. She got her first shot at the Convention Center and is looking forward to her second shot so she can finally reunite with her family.
  • A woman at a community event shared a story about how exhausted she was after climbing the SEPTA stairs to get the vaccine at the Convention Center. She questioned whether she made the right decision. As she proceeded to the Convention Center, she was approached by a member of the staff who helped and escorted her to her vaccine. She was happy with her decision to go.
  • One gentleman said he was amazed at the organization and professionalism at the convention center. When he saw the line wrap around the building, he questioned if he should wait in it.  After deciding it was the right decision, he was shocked that it only took 30 minutes to get his vaccine. Another women said she left her home at 7:15pm for her vaccination shot and was putting the key back into her front door at quarter to nine. She went on to say how pleased she was with the experience and said never thought she’d be home that quickly.

And there are more.

  • Acting FEMA Region 3 Regional Administrator Janice Barlow offered the following: “FEMA Region 3 continues on with one goal in mind: The fair and equitable access to a COVID-19 vaccine for all, especially those in our underserved communities throughout Philadelphia. We will continue to conduct outreach, continue our mission, and continue to work with our partners in this effort to course-correct when needed.”
  • As we conduct this once-in-a-generation effort to vaccinate Americans, we can all play a part. We can be good neighbors and help those who are confronted with access issues. We can help register our family members for their COVID-19 vaccine. And, for those of us who have gone through the vaccination process, we can tell our stories to help alleviate concerns about safety and process.

Together, we can beat this.

FEMA Region 3 employees from Philadelphia speak with the Northwood Civic Association to assist residents in completing the city’s vaccine interest form.

Caption - FEMA Region 3 employees from Philadelphia speak with the Northwood Civic Association to assist residents in completing the city’s vaccine interest form.

A FEMA Region 3 employee from Philadelphia provides a tour of operations at the Center City Vaccination Center to Philadelphia community leaders.

Caption - A FEMA Region 3 employee from Philadelphia meets with a local business owner while distributing flyers with information regarding the city’s vaccine interest form and registration process.

A FEMA Region 3 employee from Philadelphia meets with a local business owner while distributing flyers with information regarding the city’s vaccine interest form and registration process.

Caption - A FEMA Region 3 employee from Philadelphia provides a tour of operations at the Center City Vaccination Center to Philadelphia community leaders.

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