While mass COVID-19 vaccination sites continue and vaccinations are being incorporated into routine or other clinic visits, health centers are reaching deep and wide into their communities to ensure they are equitably distributing vaccines. Laura Miller, M.D., Chief Medical Officer at the Community Health Center Network (CHCN), a nonprofit Medi-Cal managed care organization providing business administrative support for community health centers in Alameda County, California, shared that home visits and provider call pools are some of the strategies their member health centers are using to give patients who are undecided about getting the vaccine a personal opportunity to talk about it and get more information. “Having one-on-one conversations with people who have questions about the vaccines can really help alleviate concerns and start to build vaccine confidence,” says Dr. Miller.
CHCN member health centers, like LifeLong Medical Care, also partner with other local Alameda County organizations that take a community-based approach to vaccinating residents, especially African American and Latinx who are less likely to visit a clinic or hospital to get vaccinated. “By bringing COVID response to where people live, you can begin to ease some off the barriers that communities of color face when accessing health care,” adds Dr. Miller.
LifeLong Medical Care works with UMOJA Health to bring “pop-up” vaccination sites to different locations throughout Alameda County’s East Bay, particularly in neighborhoods hardest hit by the pandemic. These pop-ups are set up in parking lots at neighborhood metro stations, churches, and shopping centers. They started as COVID-19 testing sites back in fall 2020 when the community experienced high rates of COVID-19. They are so well received because they are easily accessible and staffed with familiar faces and community member volunteers.
Partnerships with Trusted Places, Spaces, and People
For DePaul Community Health Centers in New Orleans (DCHC), Louisiana’s largest community health center network, the focus has been on bringing the vaccine not just to their patients but also the larger community all while ensuring equitable vaccine distribution. They primarily serve an African American patient population as well as members of the city’s Latinx and Vietnamese communities.
DCHC initially held mass vaccination clinics at some of its larger clinic locations. While still offering vaccinations at their clinics, DCHC also is bringing the vaccine to community members through trusted community partners and partners of partners. “Partnerships with places, spaces, and people that we know have the trust of their constituency group is key,” says Michael Griffin, CEO and President. “We treat people where they are and educate them…being as transparent as possible about the vaccine, all in an effort to get back to normalcy.”
Following this approach, the health network is working with its partner Dillard University’s Office of Community and Church Relations’ Churches in Unity outreach program, which engages church pastors across New Orleans. The support of church pastors who have the trust of their congregants and community has been critical. The health network currently has 20 churches registered to host vaccination events that not only draw congregants but also people living near the churches.
These two health center networks exemplify the high impact many organizations are successfully doing to ensure equitable distribution of the vaccine. By working with trusted partners, meeting communities where they are, and connecting in the settings familiar to them, they will continue to help those who want the vaccine receive it, regardless of their circumstances and giving them a chance to return to normalcy. In doing so, they are determined to leave no stone unturned.