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‘Let’s End COVID’ group aims to help community reach Biden’s goal

Mulling over the COVID-19 vaccine? With increased incentives and possible rewards to go along with the benefit of immunization to the coronavirus, now’s the time.

President Joe Biden has set his next goal for America: to get 70 percent of its adult population to have received one dose of any COVID-19 vaccine by the Fourth of July.

That translates to around 19.2 million more United States residents, according to Barbara Hemmendinger, a member of both Lycoming County Health Improvement Coalition and Williamsport’s “Let’s End COVID.”

“It’s a ground game now, it’s about taking it to individual people on almost a case-by-case basis,” Hemmendinger said.

Late last week, Biden’s office unveiled a series of measures to make receiving a vaccine easier than ever and more rewarding for those who get the shot.

Participating pharmacies such as CVS, Rite-Aid and Walgreens are extending their hours every Friday in June to offer services to allow Americans with less flexible work hours to get the vaccine at a time that is convenient for them.

During this “Month of Action,” calls and text messages to residents of areas with low vaccination rates are aimed to promote vaccination.

Another aim of the Biden administration is the “Shots at the Shop,” which is designed to encourage vaccinations at Black-owned barbershops and hair salons through partnerships with the Black Coalition Against COVID, the University of Maryland Center for Health Equity and SheaMoisture.

“Some of us locally are going to go see whether there are particular barbershops that serve African American people and see if they would like to set up a vaccine provider to come to them here in Williamsport,” Hemmendinger said of the “Let’s End COVID” group.

Rite Aid, River Valley Health and Dental and UPMC Williamsport have been administering vaccines at clinics set up for groups, clubs, workplaces and communities in the area.

Hemmendinger also mentioned the NAACP Juneteenth program in Brandon Park on June 19.

In addition to its regular events, River Valley Health and Dental will distribute the Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine to attendees at their own convenience, and will offer $5 Sheetz Gift Cards courtesy of “Let’s End COVID” to the first 50 people to receive the vaccine.

Another incentive is the Mayor’s Challenge, where city mayors compete against one another to see who can achieve the highest rate of growth with vaccinations by July 4.

The White House’s press release did not mention Pennsylvania as one of the states with cities signed up to do this.

However, Hemmendinger said the City of Williamsport has contributed a substantial amount of Community Development Block Grant money to help “Let’s End COVID” fund messaging to low and moderate income communities in the area.

“Illness and hospitalizations among the unvaccinated have not dropped steeply the way they have for their vaccinated neighbors” Hemmendinger said.

As of Monday, while Pennsylvania’s 45 percent vaccination rate is ahead of the national average of 42.1 percent, Lycoming County lags behind both at having 36.1 percent of its population vaccinated.

Clinton County is behind that at 30.2 percent, while Union County is ahead of Lycoming County with 40.3 percent of its population vaccinated.

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