COVID-19 Hit This County Hard. A Weakened Health Department Still Can’t Get People Vaccinated. Clayton County has the highest percentage of Black residents in Georgia and the lowest vaccination rate in the metro Atlanta area. Amid widespread community mistrust, a strained health department struggles to figure out what to do next. ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up for Dispatches, a newsletter that spotlights wrongdoing around the country, to receive our stories in your inbox every week. Most people told her the COVID-19 vaccine helped them feel safer, but Barbara Hawkins worried it would make her sick. Uninsured and without a regular doctor, she feared that side effects could aggravate her heart condition. Her friends and family, mostly vaccinated, reassured her that they wouldn’t. Finally, on a Friday morning in late November, Hawkins drove two of her children to a vaccination event at a nearby high school. She sat in a metal chair in the gymnasium, under an array of years-old championship banners, where she and her 15-year-old and 6-year-old daughters rolled up their sleeves. ProPublica Get Our Top Investigations Subscribe to the Big Story newsletter. Thanks for signing up. If you like our stories, mind sharing this with a friend?®ion=local Copy link For more ways to keep up, be sure to check out the rest of our newsletters. See All Fact-based, independent journalism is needed now more than ever. Donate “It barely hurt,” 6-year-old Seaonna Phillips said, clutching the lollipop she’d been gifted. Seaonna Phillips Credit: Lynsey Weatherspoon for ProPublica Part of what convinced Hawkins to show up was the financial incentives offered by the organizers of the vaccine drive and two vendors at the event. Hawkins and her daughters each walked out of the building with $100 in gift cards. But the event, meant to target vaccine-hesitant residents of Clayton County in south metro Atlanta, was not nearly the success that public health leaders had hoped. By the time staff began to break down tables and haul off the retractable banners pointing visitors in the correct direction, the department had distributed only 27 gift cards. They had budgeted for 300. As Hawkins and her daughters got their shots, Carla Heath, business operations director of Clayton County’s health department, walked around the gym, her eyebrows furrowed above her mask. For weeks, she had done everything she could think of to promote the event, including sharing flyers through the health department and school district and asking a local radio station to make regular announcements. She had invited the library and local health nonprofits to set up informational tables in the high-ceilinged school hallway, hoping they would help spread the word leading up to the event. And in what Heath considered the tour de force, the department had for the first time gotten permission to use state funding to offer $50 gift cards to every county resident who came in that day for a first or second dose. She figured people would appreciate some extra money for holiday shopping. But to Heath’s dismay, the money wasn’t enough to overcome reluctance for a significant number of residents in Clayton County, where only 47% of people have received a single dose of the vaccine as of Dec. 3, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health’s vaccination dashboard. That’s 11 percentage points lower than the state average and 24 percentage points lower than the national one. The disappointment she felt was typical among those trying to boost vaccination numbers in the county. A week earlier, a local nonprofit had held a vaccine clinic at a VFW post that ended with no veterans showing up to get vaccinated. In October, the county’s sole hospital, Southern Regional Medical Center, held several vaccine events that saw only a trickle of people, most of them related to hospital employees and seeking booster shots. Clayton County, Georgia’s fifth largest county, dominated headlines last year for its role in turning Georgia blue in the 2020 presidential election. Its demographics flipped as white people moved away and more people of color arrived in the 1980s and ’90s; it now has the highest percentage of Black residents in the state and is home to several immigrant communities. The county’s public health infrastructure is more strained than in other core counties in metro Atlanta — and the pandemic has made it worse. Moreover, county leaders have not taken some of the steps that those in other places have taken to convince a wary public to get vaccinated. Local doctors and public health officials say Clayton County’s health infrastructure is more akin to that of a rural region than of a typical big-city suburb. It has one of the highest rates of people without insurance in a state that has not expanded Medicaid. It also has a se . . . read the full article here.