With the COVID pandemic approaching a pivotal point, it is important to recognize lessons learned through education, implementation, and distribution of COVID vaccines.
Millions of people in the United States have been hospitalized with COVID, and more than a million people have died from COVID. Communities of color have been particularly affected.
Communities have worked to overcome the disproportionate effects of COVID by deploying tailored outreach campaigns to reach those at highest risk with lifesaving vaccines.
One community in Randolph County, GA, which had the highest COVID case rate in the state, began a privately funded program called Neighbor 2 Neighbor, an ongoing project to educate neighbors about COVID. Community volunteers go door-to-door to answer questions, to address any concerns neighbors may have about the vaccines, and to assist neighbors with getting appointments for their vaccinations. The success of this program demonstrates the power of strong community relationships, as well as the importance of using trusted messengers to promote vaccination.
Another example comes from Multnomah County, OR. There, the emergency operations center partnered with Medical Reserve Corps volunteers and paramedics to vaccinate 1,400 older adults and people with disabilities who were homebound and had been in lockdown for over a year. Their success demonstrates that the most effective engagement meets residents where they are, providing services at times and places convenient to them.
To bring vaccine equity to communities of color, the Maryland Center for Health Equity at the University of Maryland, the Black Coalition Against COVID, the National Association of County and City Health Officials, and SheaMoisture started the Shots at the Shop initiative, a partnership with over 1,000 Black barbershops and salons to provide COVID vaccines in a place people regularly gather. The initiative promoted informed decision-making to increase COVID vaccinations. The campaign also trained Black hairstylists and barbers to dispel myths and disinformation about COVID and the vaccines.
Barbershops, churches, grocery stores, and other places in the community where people frequent serve as ideal places to share important messages with residents. People are more at ease and receptive in familiar locations like these.
These community stories give us hope that at-risk populations can be reached when we rely on previously learned lessons, namely that residents deserve to be met where they are, communicated with by trusted messengers, and have their concerns taken seriously and addressed authentically in places where they are most comfortable.
It is vital that communities remain vigilant. Even mild cases of COVID can cause damage to a person’s lungs, heart, brain, and many other organs, leading to an increased risk of long-term health problems. Creative and collaborative vaccination efforts are the solution; vaccination provides strong protection against the worst outcomes from COVID, including from the Omicron variant.
Check out WeCanDoThis.HHS.gov for free outreach tools (in multiple languages) you can use to encourage people in your community to stay up to date with their COVID vaccines. We Can Do This is the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ COVID Public Education Campaign. It is a national initiative to increase public confidence in and uptake of COVID vaccines and educate the public about the availability of COVID treatments while reinforcing basic prevention measures.
To find COVID vaccines near you, go to vaccines.gov.