Actor K.J. Rasheed sitting in church after vaccinationShare on Pinterest
Actor K.J. Rasheed sits in the observation area after receiving his second dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at Lincoln Memorial Congregational Church UCC on March 12, 2021, in Los Angeles, CA. The Providence popup vaccine clinic was held at the predominantly Black church as part of their health equity campaign in communities of color. Mario Tama/Getty Images
  • Although COVID-19 is most harshly affecting Black communities in the United States, vaccination rates in these communities remain very low.
  • A paper proposes that a coalition of Black faith leaders, public health officials, and Black medical professionals may be able to increase the number of people getting vaccinated.
  • A test of the proposed model in southern California’s San Bernardino Valley resulted in a measurable increase in the rate of vaccinations.

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As vaccines become more readily available in the U.S., attention has turned to the task of getting as many people vaccinated as possible.

However, improving vaccination rates in Black communities can be particularly challenging, according to the authors of a paper in The Lancet Global Health.

The paper proposes a three-tiered model for improving vaccination rates in Black communities. It is an idea that is supported by the results of a test program targeted to the historically underserved Black community of southern California’s San Bernardino County.

This campaign led to setting up a mobile vaccination clinic in the parking lot of a San Bernardino church. During the 1-day event, the clinic vaccinated 417 individuals, 84% of whom were Black.

The paper also reports that focused education efforts led to an improvement in the percentage of Black individuals taking advantage of local mass vaccination clinics after the program. Their participation increased from 3% to 3.6% in the week that followed the mobile clinic vaccination event.

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COVID-19 deaths among Black Americans are nearly double that of non-Hispanic white individuals, say the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC also report that the percentage of Black individuals who get vaccinated remains significantly lower than the percentage for non-Hispanic white individuals.

Black communities face a disproportionate number of barriers to vaccinations. As the paper notes, “The medical establishment in the [U.S.] has a long history of discrimination and exploitation against Black individuals.”

“This discrimination has resulted in lasting negative effects, such as healthcare hesitancy and distrust, which are deeply engrained in the consciousness of the community.”

– Dr. Jacinda Abdul-Mutakabbir, et al.

Loma Linda University (LLU) Health operate two mass vaccination clinics in San Bernardino County. It is the largest such operation in the county, inoculating roughly 2,000 people per day free of charge.

Local officials have been concerned about how few Black individuals take advantage of the clinics.

Before the test program began, just 3% of the 23,170 individuals the clinics had vaccinated were Black. However, in San Bernardino County, 7.8% of the total population is Black.

Logistical barriers can prevent people from getting vaccinated, says first study author Dr. Jacinda Abdul-Mutakabbir, an assistant professor at LLU’s School of Pharmacy. For example, some people find it difficult to get to the suburban LLU vaccination clinics due to a lack of transportation.

In addition, poor internet and computer access make it difficult for many people to register for vaccination appointments online or access important healthcare information.

As Dr. Abdul-Mutakabbir says, “A more proactive approach was clearly required.”

The paper proposes that Black faith leaders, public health officials, and Black medical professionals working together may result in higher vaccination rates.

Particularly important during the test program in San Bernardino, says Dr. Abdul-Mutakabbir, was the participation of Black faith leaders.

Dr. Abdul-Mutakabbir reports:

“The U.S. is considered a highly religious nation, and prayer, as well as the promotion of medical treatment by religious leaders, has been historically important in establishing trust in healthcare among Black Americans. The pastors’ leadership was integral to the success of this initiative, as they are well acquainted and had established direct communication with individuals in the Black community.”

As part of the program, the researchers worked with two religious organizations to present a COVID-19-centered faith summit. The two organizations were the Inland Empire Concerned African American Churches and the Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement.

At the event, the researchers presented local pastors with comprehensive COVID-19 information, as well as information regarding available vaccines, to enlist their support and involvement.

In the period following the summit, the pastors arranged webinars explaining COVID-19 vaccinations to their parishioners.

The pastors also provided registration paperwork, to ensure that internet access was not a barrier, and managed vaccination appointment lists.

To help ensure that things went smoothly, Dr. Abdul-Mutakabbir — who is a Black pharmacist with specialized infectious disease training — facilitated the transportation of vaccine supplies to the clinics.

To help ease potential concerns among those being vaccinated and to build trust, she arranged for vaccines to be drawn from vials ahead of time so that doses would be ready and waiting for the individuals who were to receive them.

Anticipating that the positive outcomes achieved by the San Bernardino program can be repeated in other communities, Dr. Abdul-Mutakabbir says:

“The equitable allocation of the COVID-19 vaccines is essential to confronting the racial disparities magnified by the current pandemic. We hope to continue our efforts using the power of faith and science to keep these vulnerable populations healthy and protected from the virus.”

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