Whereas COVID-19 has illustrated the breadth of health inequities existent in the U.S. health care system and the associated vaccine hesitancy among underserved populations, what is thus far less understood is how to reduce that hesitancy by eliminating related obstacles.
“Hesitancy is removed when we are able to bring a vaccine event that is close to where someone lives, in a trusted place, coordinated with trusted partners — then we see parity in vaccination rates,” said Mandy Cohen, MD, Secretary, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. “I would encourage CEOs to work on operational details when thinking about vaccine deployment.”
Cohen’s insights came during the most recent meeting of the Health Evolution Forum’s Roundtable on Community Health and Advancing Health Equity at February’s end. During the Roundtable, Forum Fellows discussed what they have learned to date about achieving equity in vaccine distribution, including: developing an intentional strategy to advance equity, partnering with organizations that have necessary expertise, leading the organization to leverage relevant data and mobilizing vaccines to people in the community.
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Developing an intentional strategy to advance equity
Establishing large-scale distribution centers and attracting people to them in preparation for mass vaccinations are straightforward enough. “But it is very hard to assure an equitable approach to vaccination,” said Steppe Mette, MD, Senior Vice Chancellor for University of Arkansas for Medical Science Health and CEO, UAMS Medical Center. “The whole effort is dynamic and fluid.”
UAMS, in fact, decided early in the process to sanctify its strategy with a very specific set of goals to not vaccinate groups with anything less than their represented population within Arkansas and it conducted day-to-day assessments of vaccination data against demographic data to design the next week’s strategy, which Mette credited with helping UAMS achieve a balance among underrepresented populations.
The health system also found that purposefully partnering with influencers within targeted communities worked well and he cautioned that the outreach efforts should consider the potential for drawing people from outside a particular population.
“An intentional approach to targeting populations that have already demonstrated, or where we suspect vaccination hesitancy, has been crucial for us,” Mette said.