Large disparities in COVID-19 vaccination rates throughout Hamilton County persist despite a boost in the county's overall vaccination rate throughout the summer and ongoing outreach efforts, according to data from the local vaccine education coalition Get Vaccinated Chattanooga.
Nearly 55% of Hamilton County residents overall have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 50% are fully vaccinated, but a ZIP code with some of Chattanooga's most at-risk neighborhoods is still home to the lowest percentage of county residents vaccinated against COVID-19, and the gap between the least vaccinated and most vaccinated ZIP code is wider now than it was in the spring.
ZIP code-level vaccine data from the Tennessee Department of Health that was obtained and analyzed by Jesse Houser for the Get Vaccinated Chattanooga team in late April showed that 6.9% of residents from the 37407 ZIP code — which contains the Clifton Hills, East Lake and Cedar Hill neighborhoods near Rossville Boulevard — had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. As of Friday, 17.6% of residents from that ZIP code had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 14.1% were fully vaccinated.
That's well below the county's most-vaccinated ZIP code, 37408, where 94.8% of residents living along Chattanooga's Southside Historic District and South Broad are at least partially vaccinated — up from 65.6% in late April — and 85.2% of residents are now fully vaccinated.
There are many reasons why vaccination rates can differ by ZIP code. For example, ZIP codes with larger proportions of young residents are more likely to have lower vaccination rates, particularly because children under age 12 are not currently eligible for COVID-19 vaccines.
The 37407 area is younger and more racially diverse than the rest of the county, with nearly 40% of residents being Black or African American and more than 25% Hispanic, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Historically, vaccination rates among these racial and ethnic groups have been lower than others due to systemic racism and longstanding distrust in the health care system.
Vaccination rates by ZIP code
The following lists show the five ZIP codes in Hamilton County with the highest rates of fully vaccinated residents and the five with the lowest.
37408 — Southside Historic District: 85.2%
37351 — Lupton City: 48.8%
37350 — Lookout Mountain: 47.4%
37409 — Areas surrounding Lookout Mountain: 47.4%
37405 — Northshore, areas surrounding Prentice Cooper State Forest: 47.2%
37407 — including parts of Clifton Hills, East Lake and Cedar Hill: 13.4%
37403 — Fort Wood: 23.7%
37338* — Hendon, Graysville: 24.2%
37410 — including parts of Piney Woods, Oak Hill, Alton Park, Richmond: 24.6%
37311* — Cleveland: 25.1%
*Includes areas predominantly outside Hamilton County
Source: Get Vaccinated Chattanooga Coalition
Data analyst Houser said in an email that it's important to keep in mind the "significant limitations" of vaccine data when comparing the rates of different ZIP codes: The data is subject to corrections, ZIP codes are not necessarily constrained by county boundaries and rates are calculated based on U.S. Census population estimates.
"Therefore, when interpreting vaccination rates, particularly for small size populations [such as low-population ZIP codes], it is important to understand that an associated margin of error applies," he wrote.
Other ZIP codes with the lowest vaccination rates in Hamilton County — which range from 23.7% to 25.1% fully vaccinated — include Fort Wood/UTC (37403) and Alton Park (37410). Sparsely populated 37338 in the northwest corner of Hamilton County is also in the bottom five for vaccination rate, as is 37311. Residents of those two ZIP codes mostly live in Bledsoe and Bradley counties, which have overall lower vaccination rates than Hamilton County.
The other ZIP codes with the highest percentage of fully vaccinated residents are Lupton City (37351), Lookout Mountain (37350), areas surrounding Lookout Mountain (37350) and North Chattanooga (37405). However, those areas have vaccination rates significantly below the leading ZIP code, ranging from 47.2% to 48.8% fully vaccinated.
Signal Mountain (37377), which was among the top five most-vaccinated ZIP codes in April, is now ranked as the ninth most-vaccinated of the county's 30 ZIP codes, with 39.6% of its residents fully vaccinated.
The Get Vaccinated Chattanooga team has used the data to determine where vaccine education and events are needed most. It hosted a series of neighborhood block parties throughout the summer, with the final block party taking place at the end of September.
Dwayne Marshall, a leader on the Get Vaccinated Chattanooga team, said that although vaccination events through the group are paused, the team is in the process of reviewing additional data to determine where to focus efforts going forward.
"Our intent all along throughout this process was to intentionally focus on the areas that were the least vaccinated. That's what drove the locations where we selected to go over the course of the summer in particular," Marshall said. "We will absolutely continue to use that same philosophy — go where we believe the greatest amount of need is based on the data."
One possibility the group is exploring, Marshall said, is partnering with employers that want to vaccinate more of their workers to conduct on-site events.
Dr. Matthew Kodsi, vice president of medical affairs at CHI Memorial — which provides the clinical support for Get Vaccinated Chattanooga — said taking the vaccine to underserved neighborhoods for the summer block parties helped reach people who might otherwise not get vaccinated. The events varied in size, with an average of roughly 40 people being vaccinated at each event. At one block party, around 80 people got the shot, he said.
"We were able to get to people who are still searching for vaccine and to reach out to people who may have been hesitant for a number of reasons or might not have been those who would get up, get in their car and go to a pharmacy," Kodsi said.
The county saw increased demand for first-time COVID-19 vaccines that coincided with the rise of the delta variant, but that demand has since tapered off significantly.
Kodsi said it will take new, creative approaches to reach those who are vaccine hesitant, and at this point in the campaign, one-on-one conversations are proving most effective.
"We've gone to these neighborhoods where we know that vaccination rates are low, we believe we understand some of the reasons — societal, cultural, access, etcetera — and have addressed some of those reasons by just being there," he said. "Now the question is, is just being there enough?
"How do we do that in some other areas where the reasons people aren't coming are somewhat different? That's what we're trying to figure out at this point."
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