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“Are you ready to take that shot?” Dorothy Olivia asks a young Black man in her rural community of Panola, Alabama. “Put me down,” the young man replies. Panola is an all-Black town in western Alabama.
Olivia and her friend Drucilla Jackson, a County Commissioner, are showing medical officials how to fight Covid-19 in rural America.
Even as the Delta variat surges, Alabama has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the U.S. Only 39% of the total states population is fully vaccinated.
However, Panola vaccination surpasses the state’s average with 97% of the residents being fully vaccinated.
Before beginning their efforts, there was no place in or around Panola to receive a vaccination to prevent severe Covid disease.
A lack of access kept many residents from receiving information and resources. Not having access to the internet or a phone to book vaccination appointments or vehicle to get to an appointment were some of the reasons Olivia mentioned in a new documentary film presented by The New Yorker, titled “The Panola Project.” The film follows Olivia and Jackson around as they go door-to-door and make telephone calls to every person in their community.
“If y’all see somebody that hasn’t been vaccinated, encourage them. You can call me, or Mrs. Jackson. I’m taking names and numbers at the store,” Olivia implores a resident.
Bringing access to rural America
“If we bring the vaccination to Panola will you take it?,” Commissioner Drucilla asks a elderly community member. “Yeah, I want to take it.” He kindly replies while making his way out of a mobile home.
Olivia and Jackson were able to soon organize a vaccination drive-thru for their community.
“We had to bring the vaccination to Panola. We went door to door. Talking to them [community members]. And we didn’t have any problems…The people didn’t have the access to get it because we live so far, in a very rural area. So, we knew we had to do something,” she told the reporter.
In the film, Olivia describes how her nephew’s wife began showing symptoms of Covid disease on a Friday and within the same weekend passed on Sunday evening.
“It hit her Friday on her birthday. When it hit her, she said she came down with a little cold. ‘Well, I’m getting sick. I think I have a cold or something,’” Olivia says the victim told her. “And she looked worse the next day. She died Sunday night.”
Alabama Covid Deaths
Since the pandemic hit, Covid-19 has claimed the lives of 12,488 Alabama residents.
According to the CDC, Black Americans have the second highest Covid death rate per racial demographic in the U.S.; Indigenous Americans and Native Alaskans are first.
Olivia says the reason for vaccine hesitation in her community is fear, many opting to take their chances and wait while seeing how the vaccine affects others.
Nevertheless, the two ladies were able to persuade most of the town.
Finding trustworthy community partners is key
“Everybody respects me. And they know that I am an honest person. And they respect the commissioner also. We didn’t have any problem at all when we went door to door. We did whatever we had to do to make sure they got vaccinated,” adding, “We had a few who we had to really twist their arms. Because they had a lot of excuses.”
In an interview with MSNBC, Olivia explained how sometimes the best methods are the old fashioned ones — knocking on doors and calling people on the phone.
Olivia and Jackson show that finding community partners and staying persistent is the key to keeping Covid out of our communities.
Both women were able to book appointments and bring three vaccinations pop-ups to Panola. Residents living near and in Panola arrived at the vaccine drive-in where they were greeted by nurses who looked like them.
These Black sheroes have saved lives.