Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney stated that 70% of the city’s adults have gotten at least one dosage of the coronavirus vaccination, meeting President Biden’s national target ahead of schedule. But it isn’t the entire story. Despite accounting for more than 40% of the city’s population, just one-quarter of those vaccines were given to Black people.
People of color in the United States have been ravaged by Covid-19 throughout the epidemic, dying at a far higher rate than white Americans. As immunization rates have risen, those dying are younger and more disproportionately Black.
Dr. Ala Stanford has been trying to alter that since April 2020. Her organization, the Black Doctors Covid-19 Consortium, has provided testing and vaccinations to over 75,000 people of Philadelphia’s minority communities.
“We are deliberate about concentrating on areas with the lowest immunization rates and the highest positive rates,” said Stanford , whose group has been lauded by the CDC as a model for reducing health care disparities. “Those who are most vulnerable… they need assistance,” she told CNN.
Stanford, a pediatric surgeon, is on an unusual route, but she has always defied expectations. Her family struggled to make ends meet when she was born to adolescent parents in north Philadelphia. But it didn’t stop Stanford from having extraordinary dreams.
“I knew I wanted to be a doctor since I was around eight years old… and I never thought I couldn’t accomplish it,” she added. “The grit that comes from being a poor child reared in Philadelphia has given me the drive to push on, no matter what.”
She went on to become a surgeon and established a successful private practice. But when the nation shut down in March 2020, her business slowed significantly, so she dug down at home with her husband and three small kids.
Early in April, she was concerned to learn about a large number of deaths among Black Philadelphia citizens. Then, a Drexel University researcher found that individuals in the city’s wealthy white neighborhoods were being tested six times more often than those in impoverished minority neighborhoods.
Stanford was well aware that individuals of color were more susceptible to Covid-19 for various reasons, including the fact that they were more likely to be vital employees. Knowing they weren’t being tested irritated her much.
“This was your working-class neighborhood. They were responsible for keeping the city and the nation functioning, “she said. “However, testing was difficult to get by wherever Black people were.”
So, she collected PPE from her workplace, testing kits, hired a vehicle and set out to provide free testing to regions with the highest favorable rates.
“We ran a slew of experiments on the first day. We performed approximately 150 tests the second time we went out. And the third time… 500 people were waiting in line before we even began, “she said.
They offered free testing in the parking lots of area churches, mosques, community centers, and SEPTA stations throughout 2020, ultimately providing antibody testing, flu vaccinations, and Covid testing.
Stanford and her colleagues started providing Covid vaccines in January and vaccinated an average of 1,000 individuals each day for the first three months. The organization also held a 24-hour “Vax-A-Thon,” during which they immunized over 4,000 individuals.
Stanford’s volunteer effort, which she initially financed out of her own money, has grown into a huge business with 70 staff and over 200 volunteers.
As the rate of immunizations has slowed in recent weeks, the organization has sought new methods to reach people in need. More than 1,000 individuals have joined up for their home vaccination program, and they’ve targeted adolescents with special events and high school visits to address vaccine-related concerns. Music, free drinks, t-shirt giveaways, and other incentives are increasingly common at these gatherings.
The organization is now headquartered at Deliverance Evangelistic Church in North Philadelphia. They want to establish a health equity center there in the autumn until they can build their own permanent facility.
Stanford’s efforts have earned her such praise that she is now being considered for the position of municipal health commissioner.