In a back alley in Anacostia, Wendell Whren and Valerie Davis sit on two folding chairs in the shade. In their laps they hold clipboards detailing the day’s tasks following a morning meeting in a Ward 7 backyard. The two are supervisors with the Anacostia Coordinating Council, which is working with Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office to encourage residents in Wards 7 and 8 to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We have different people from different walks of life that have experienced different things,” Whren says. “Different motivating factors to cause them to get vaccinated. We utilize that to kind of encourage people that are apprehensive or may have reasons as to why they don’t want to get vaccinated”

It’s a monumental and necessary task. DC Health estimates that 72.7 percent of residents age 12 and over have been partially or fully vaccinated, which is higher than the national average. The percentage of each ward’s eligible population that is fully vaccinated population hovers between 47 and 58 percent, except for Wards 7 and 8, which DC Health data show as 37 percent and 32 percent fully vaccinated, respectively.

These coverage disparities have persisted for months and are rooted in both access issues and hesitancy stemming from historical and continued mistreatment of Black residents in the health care system.

The ACC is boosting those numbers by going door to door throughout the two wards. In groups of at least two, members of the team walk up to their neighbors’ stoops and ask if they’d like to get vaccinated. If they do, they’ll enter the resident’s information and another person will set up an appointment and even schedule a ride for them. Whren says he’s heard a broad range of answers as to why they haven’t gotten vaccinated—but the main factor is many don’t trust the shot.

“Religious reasons, scientific reasons, we have heard a plethora of reasoning,” Whren says. “People say things like ‘Well, how did they come up with a vaccine for corona so fast? When HIV has been around for all these years?’ They say things like: ‘Well, the people that are catching the virus now are the ones that have been vaccinated.’”

The ACC’s task has become even more important due to the rise of the delta variant in D.C. and across the nation. Though the mutated virus has broken through and infected some fully vaccinated individuals, the vast majority of new COVID-19 cases are among the unvaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control also touts the vaccine as highly effective at reducing the symptoms of COVID-19 and preventing hospital stays or death. Nationwide reports show hospitalization rates for vaccinated individuals are only about zero to 0.01 percent.

Despite these numbers, some residents of Ward 7 and 8 are still hesitant to get the vaccine. Another organizer, Stuart Anderson, stresses one of the groups they’re focusing on is younger people.

“A lot of those people are also some of our younger population,” he said. “So with the rise of this delta … variation of the virus, you know, it’s even more important to have teams such as a team that I have.”

Mayor Bowser’s office is also pushing to get youth vaccinated, especially in Wards 7 and 8. DCist reports residents ages 12 to 17 in Wards 7 and 8 have vaccination rates of 10 percent and 7 percent, respectively. The city is incentivizing youth vaccination by offering prizes at select vaccination locations. District youth ages 12 to 17 can win prizes like a $51 VISA gift card or a pair of Apple AirPods. They will also be entered into a raffle that could garner them an iPad or even a $25,000 scholarship. 

When asked about why she’s doing this job, Davis says she’s always been a caregiver. Whren says Davis even carries around a cooler of cold water to ensure her team members stay hydrated.

“I have always been a person that take care of others. And I’ve been blessed with that cause you know, everybody have something that God has blessed you with.” she said. “I believe in loving and caring for others.”

Whren says he appreciates the opportunity to give back to the community after he served a decade of prison time.

“That’s one of the things that motivates me is like my past don’t stop me from being able to save lives. When we sign in every morning, that’s what they ask us: ‘Are you ready to save lives?’ And my answer is always yes.”

Davis agrees:

“I always let people know, ‘I took the shot. And I’m OK.’ I’m out here knocking on doors and snapping pictures because I want people to see our team. We out here saving lives. That’s what it’s all about. And I think we have done a great job doing that.”

—Bailey Vogt (tips? bvogt@washingtoncitypaper.com)

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