Capital One and the Prince George’s County Memorial Library System (PGCMLS) have taken an innovative approach to addressing COVID-19 vaccination barriers in the county through an appointment assistance mobile phone line so people can get help registering for and securing inoculation times.
Prince George’s County’s distribution of COVID-19 vaccinations has exposed a racial discrepancy in vaccine access, especially in Latino communities. Latino residents make up 20% of the county’s population, but according to the COVID-19 Vaccine Dashboard for the county, only 5.7% have received the necessary two doses.
The challenges of getting access to vaccination appointments stems from some people being digitally inexperienced. Residents skilled in using the internet are able to search the web and pull vaccine appointments out of the supply fast, meaning those lacking web literacy can’t find an appointment through online booking—unless they get lucky.
Disparities in vaccination access have inspired Capital One to fund non-profit organizations like the PGCMLS to help create a bilingual COVID-19 vaccine appointment assistance line and expand their education efforts around the vaccine’s efficacy for those in the immediate area.
The COVID-19 hotline launched April 1, and is open Monday through Friday from 9AM- 7PM. Within one week of launch, the hotline hosted over 470 calls, with two-thirds of the people getting vaccination appointments. The team manning the hotline was able to make appointments for callers, most within 24 hours, and some as quickly as two hours. The hotline number is (240) 392-3622.
According to Nicolas Brown, the Chief Operating Officer for Communication and Outreach for Prince George’s County Memorial Library System (PGCMLS), over 200 people have been able to get confirmed appointments for one of the vaccines supplied by their health-care provider.
Brown says Prince George’s County residents can call the hotline, staffed by people of the PGCMLS, and can get registered for a vaccination appointment, even scheduling one that corresponds best with their daily schedules.
“People are saying ‘these are my work hours and I am not able to search for an appointment. I only speak Spanish. Can you please help me find something within public transportation access to my home, within a five mile radius?’” Brown says.
He added, “We take that information and we get them on pre-registration lists. We check their local CVS, their Safeways, their Giants, and even their Walmarts, and the best-case scenario is they will get something from either us or the pre-registration lists on the same day for an appointment confirmation.”
The system also crowdsources various outlets likeas https://mdvax.info/ and the Maryland Vaccine Hunters Facebook Group, that posts a daily thread where people find available appointments and post them online to assist in finding accurate times for local available appointments.
Brown added that occasionally it takes the system a bit longer based on the type of vaccine a person is looking for. “Like some people say I need Johnson and Johnson only and it has to be on a weekend in which case we have a much harder time trying to find them something,” Brown says.
Brown says since the vaccine rollout started, the PGCMLS has been using different methods to help with addressing vaccine equity, while also educating folks about the vaccines and their options. He added that the partnership with Capital One was an opportunity for the library to do what it does best.
“I think the rollout of the vaccines has been a challenge across the board, and we saw an opportunity for the library to connect people through resources and give people information that is going to help them make an informed decision for themselves about where to pursue a service or get a vaccine,” Brown says.
Brown says that because of the uptick in calls, the hotline will need to hire more staff members to help more people effectively.
“If we see that there is still a need in the community for this service by mid May, we are going to do everything we can to extend the service. Even if we are helping one person that is a huge deal and a life- changing service that we are providing,” Brown added.
For the family of Adrienne Davis, a resident of Prince George’s County for almost 50 years, the service was life saving. Davis says she first became aware of the hotline after watching a newsfeed on WJLA, where a man was saying PGCMLS was partnering with the community to make vaccination registrations and scheduling easier for their residents.
“I called the COVID hotline at 9:15 AM. on April 2 and to my utter surprise, the gentleman that answered the phone was the same person that conducted the segment on the news earlier that morning. He asked several questions and within minutes, he had scheduled me, my husband, and our son for COVID vaccinations at 10:30 AM that very same day,” Davis shared.
Davis says she simply provided basic information for her family like phone numbers, their home address and her family's brief medical history, and then they were all set. According to Davis, the process over the phone only took eight minutes.
“Yes, there are other resources to assist the community in scheduling the COVID vaccinations. I had registered on several other sites with regard to scheduling an appointment but had not heard back from any so that is why I was eager to try the PGCMLS COVID hotline who as I said, scheduled my family’s appointments for that same day.”
Andy Navarrete, the Executive Vice President of External Affairs for Capital One, says that recognition of uneven vaccine access is a barrier to economic recovery, especially for underserved populations.
“At Capital One, we recognize that, as business leaders, we have a unique opportunity to create value in the communities where we live and work. Our mission, ‘Change Banking for Good,’ includes removing barriers to help enable vibrant futures for all,” says Navarrete.
According to Navarrete, when Capital One was first trying to figure out how to assist communities during the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization realized there was a tremendous need for support in their own backyard.
“The sooner people can access the vaccine, the sooner we can move towards the recovery and reopening of our communities. We embrace the idea that we do well as a company by doing good in the communities we serve, and that community leaders who really know and understand the people they’re working with can have the most impact,” Navarete says.
Navarrete says that although Capital One is a part of the private sector, it has a role in efforts to help rebuild communities it serves, and to get through the current crisis, everyone has to work together.
“While I can’t speak to the work that other businesses are doing on this front, I can tell you that Capital One has always sought to ensure that our community and philanthropic initiatives are fully integrated into our business model. We hope to be a catalyst in our nation’s collective recovery, and an advocate for an inclusive recovery that lifts us all,” Navarrete says.
Residents of Prince George’s County can access the COVID-19 hotline by calling (240) 392-3622 if they need assistance in registering and scheduling a vaccination appointment