Community Organizations’ Role in the Equitable Facilitation of COVID-19 Vaccinations

Community Organizations’ Role in the Equitable Facilitation of COVID-19 Vaccinations

COVID-19 has shed light on and expanded many longstanding disparities in our society, as low-income individuals and communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by the virus. As public health officials work to prioritize equity in their vaccination efforts, community organizations have a crucial role to play in building trust in the vaccine and sharing information about how to be vaccinated. As an established voice in our community, IBA is dedicated to ensuring that vaccination information is available and accessible to our residents, and to helping them get vaccinated when they are eligible.

While state and local officials are making an effort to incorporate equity into the vaccine distribution process, there are many challenges that they must overcome in order to ensure that members of vulnerable communities have access to key information and vaccination appointments. For example, the most efficient way to make appointments on such a large scale is online, but many low-income households lack Internet access. Similarly, language barriers can discourage or prevent non-English speaking community members from easily accessing or navigating available information. Transportation can also pose difficulties, as many of the sites with enough space to accommodate vaccinations on a mass scale are located in predominately white areas that lack a variety of public transportation options or are inaccessible to people without cars. Community organizations are deeply familiar with the needs of the people they serve, making us valuable partners in identifying solutions to accelerate vaccination rates.

One benefit that community organizations can lend to the vaccination effort is a knowledge of how to communicate with constituents. At IBA, we know that many of our residents find printed newsletters and flyers helpful, while others look to social media for key updates. We – like so many other local nonprofits – have leveraged this knowledge throughout the pandemic, sharing important health and safety information through a variety of mediums in both English and Spanish to make it accessible to as many residents as possible. As more members of our community become eligible for vaccination, we plan to expand these efforts to build trust in and share information about the vaccine through social media, printed materials placed throughout the community, video content and more.

Aside from the logistical benefits associated with community organizations sharing vaccination information, we can also play a role in building trust among demographic groups who have been shown to be hesitant about receiving the vaccine. A January poll conducted by University of Massachusetts Boston found that Black and Latino residents in Boston are more cautious of being vaccinated than White and Asian residents; fewer than 75 percent of Latino residents and just over half of Black residents said they plan to get the vaccine. This concern is understandable, considering that our healthcare system has historically overlooked people of color and excluded them from vaccine trials. As trusted messengers, community organizations can help assuage concerns by sharing information about the vaccines’ safety and the intentionally diverse composition of the trial populations. At the same time, virtual town halls and forums can be held to allow members of the public to engage with local leaders to learn and ask questions about the vaccines’ safety and the vaccination process.

Recognizing our role as a steward of our community, IBA is dedicated to working with leaders in government and healthcare to build trust in COVID-19 vaccines and ensure that they are accessible to our residents. Since Phase 2 of the vaccination rollout in Massachusetts began on February 1st, our Resident Services team has already helped eligible residents make vaccination appointments, we have held vaccination clinics at our eligible properties, and we have hosted information sessions for staff and program participants to get their questions answered. As the rollout continues, we will expand this work to ensure that all our residents have access to these life-saving vaccinations, while advocating for more equitable vaccine distribution statewide.

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