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Vaccine street team canvasser Yahnis Syndor speaks to Alvin Banks about the vaccine in West Philadelphia. (Photo from Penn Medicine)

A Penn-sponsored “Vaccine Street Team” has been going door-to-door around West Philadelphia, encouraging residents to get vaccinated in hopes of lessening the spread of COVID-19.

Councilmember Jamie Gauthier, in partnership with Penn Medicine and the Service Employees International Union, has assembled a team of volunteers to dispel vaccine myths in West Philadelphia. The team – which knocks on doors and answers questions residents may have about COVID-19 vaccines – has visited 9,161 pre-mapped homes and reached over 250 individuals who were initially hesitant to get vaccinated, AL DÍA reported.

The Vaccine Street Team was established largely in response to low vaccination rates for Black residents in the city, who account for 42% of Philadelphia’s population. Only 48% of Black Philadelphians have received their first doses of vaccination as of July 11, according to the City of Philadelphia. In late June, more than 50% of white city residents had received at least one dose of vaccine, compared to roughly one-third of Black city residents.

To debunk vaccine myths, the Vaccine Street Team uses a canvassing model, similar to how those running for office might campaign before an election, Penn Medicine News reported. By going door-to-door, residents can get answers one-on-one with the Street Team instead of from media outlets, which some residents believe are not trustworthy.

This canvassing model was proposed by nonprofit executive director Matt Goldfine along with Tarik Khan, a nurse practitioner and Penn Nursing graduate student.

Heather Klusaritz, Director of Community Engagement for Penn’s Center for Public Health Initiatives, believes that there is a pressing need to dispel vaccination myths given the rise of highly infectious COVID-19 variants in the city, like the Delta variant.

“It isn’t just about offering a vaccine clinic in the community,” Klusaritz told Penn Medicine News. “We are at a point where people need to build trust and create opportunities for people to have conversations about their vaccine concerns in order to support vaccine decision making.” 

Some residents were inspired to receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine after speaking to volunteers from the Vaccine Street Team.

“I feel a change in organizing and helping people,” Yuhnis Syndor, a Vaccine Street Team volunteer, told Penn Medicine News. “I feel like I’ve been able to make a difference, just listening and having a conversation while educating.”