With the safety of all residents in mind, Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam highlighted National Minority Health Month by focusing on the disproportionate impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on racial and ethnic minority groups and stressing the need for people in these vulnerable communities to get vaccinated.
“Health equity is the foundation of good public health policy,” Acting Secretary Beam said. “The opportunity to live a healthy life is fundamental, which is why it is essential that we work to help everyone achieve their healthiest lives. National Minority Health Month reminds us of the importance of eliminating health disparities and discussing solutions that will improve the health of all Pennsylvanians.”
Throughout the COVID-19 response in Pennsylvania, the Wolf Administration has committed to collecting and sharing COVID-19 case and vaccine demographics to better understand disease incidence, trends and health disparities across the commonwealth. The department has ordered laboratories and vaccine providers to report race and ethnicity data. To help encourage compliance and help all health care personnel understand the importance of this data collection, the department offers webinars and Health Alerts, Advisories and Updates.
In April 2020, shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic began, the department’s Office of Health Equity developed the Health Equity Response Team (HERT) to work closely with the Governor’s Office COVID-19 Taskforce on Health Disparities. The HERT is now made up of state agencies and over 300 community partners.
Members of the HERT have stepped up to meet the testing and vaccination needs in minority communities across the commonwealth. In fall 2020 and winter 2020-2021, the department organized a faith-based testing initiative to provide COVID-19 testing in partnership with local religious organizations in Allegheny, Beaver and Dauphin counties. Additionally, the department partnered with Latino Connection for a mobile testing tour in underserved minority communities in Fall 2020.
Now that COVID-19 vaccines are available, the department again has plans to partner with Latino Connection to offer a mobile vaccination tour in more minority communities across the commonwealth. The department will continue to encourage vaccine providers to partner with local community organizations to set up vaccination clinics in all communities as more vaccine becomes available.
The U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Minority Health’s theme for the 2021 National Minority Health Month is #VaccineReady. The focus will be to empower communities to:
- Get the facts about COVID-19 vaccines;
- Share accurate vaccine information;
- Participate in clinical trials;
- Get vaccinated when the time comes; and
- Practice COVID-19 safety measures.
HHS recommends that communities take the following steps to protect themselves until they can get vaccinated:
- Wear a mask to protect yourself and others and stop the spread of COVID-19;
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds;
- Stay at least 6 feet (about 2 arm lengths) from others who don’t live with you; and
- Avoid crowds. The more people you are in contact with, the more likely you are to be exposed to COVID-19.
The department’s Office of Health Equity strives to ensure that every individual can live healthfully no matter their race, location, education or income level. A lack of health equity leads to health disparities, which happen when some communities have better health outcomes than others. According to the department’s 2019 State of Health Equity in Pennsylvania report, there are significant health disparities in Pennsylvania due to food insecurity, barriers to health care access, pre-existing health conditions, sexuality and race. COVID-19 has exacerbated these disparities.
During National Minority Health Month, the Office of Health Equity will continue working to increase the public’s awareness of health disparities among minority communities across the state, including American Indian and Alaska native communities. The office works with policy makers, insurers, health care providers and communities to implement policies and programs that will increase the health of all Pennsylvanians.
To learn more about where to get the COVID-19 vaccine, visit the COVID-19 vaccine provider map or call the Pennsylvania Health Hotline at 1-877-PA-HEALTH.
Additional information about minority health, the department’s Office of Health Equity and social determinants of health can be found on the Department of Health’s website at health.pa.gov or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.