Health care and religious leaders join in vaccine distribution
WASHINGTON (RNS) —Dr. Basim Khan notices the change in his patients when they show up for an appointment after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine from a community clinic linked to his neighborhood health nonprofit in Northern Virginia.
“It has been moving for them, after all these months, to feel that they are hoping their lives will return to normal,” said Khan, executive director of the health center, who as of April 20 had vaccinated 29,000 people. through its clinics. , 85% being people of color, including Hispanics, African Americans and Asians.
One of the keys to getting people to get vaccinated has been recruiting local religious leaders, Khan said. He contacted the clergy in Fairfax and Arlington counties and marveled at their response.
Some religious leaders have opened their places of worship as additional clinics for COVID-19 vaccinations or acted as intermediaries, referring people who have had limited opportunities to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in their arms.
“When a lot of people who got vaccinated got a call from someone in their church, it was a strong endorsement of the vaccination effort,” Khan said.
Fewer vaccinations among blacks and Hispanics
The collaboration of religious leaders with health professionals – both nonprofit and for-profit companies – has been a crucial driver in efforts to improve access to immunizations among populations who have had disproportionately higher levels. illness or death from the coronavirus.
An April 21 report from the Kaiser Family Foundation said – as has been the case in previous weeks – “there is a consistent trend in the states of black and Hispanic people receiving a smaller proportion of vaccinations compared to their share. cases and deaths and relative to their share of the total population. “
He noted that blacks make up 19% of the population in Virginia, 21% of COVID-19 cases, 25% of COVID-19 deaths, but only received 14% of vaccinations.
Neighborhood Health, which serves 40,000 often low-income and uninsured patients at multiple clinics, has set up seven separate COVID-19 vaccination sites. Four are in sites related to religion, including a seminary, two Baptist churches and a Hall of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization. With 5,000 people vaccinated per week, about half receive vaccines in religious settings.
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In an effort to make sure it reaches underserved populations, the community health center has not opened its vaccination clinics to the general public. Instead, he worked with dozens of partners, including religious organizations – such as Evangelical, Mormon, and Muslim communities – and other nonprofits to obtain referrals. The neighborhood health service then schedules referrals, who may have had difficulty registering for an appointment for a vaccine.
“Some of the churches we work with have reached hundreds of patients and have really done an amazing job of trying to find people to vaccinate,” Khan said.
Seeking to reach the vulnerable population
For-profit healthcare companies, such as the national pharmacy chain CVS, have also established links with faith-based organizations to increase the number of people – especially people of color – who receive COVID vaccines. 19 or are tested for coronavirus and other diseases.
“We have an extensive network of community leaders across the country, including faith-based organizations we work with to reach vulnerable patients, with a special focus on black and Hispanic populations to help them make an immunization appointment. COVID-19, ”a CVS Health spokesperson told Religion News Service.
Just as it happens on the global stage, American health professionals rely on the expertise and connections of religious leaders who know the particular barriers that prevent people in their communities from getting vaccinated. Armed with this knowledge, they are jointly seeking to increase the vaccination rate against COVID-19.
“Currently, we are also working with non-profit organizations, particularly in the faith-based space, to create vaccination clinics that allow us to be agile and responsive to the needs of our partners and communities” , added the CVS Health spokesperson.
For some healthcare organizations, working with places of worship is an extension of their daily activities with communities disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
Reduce health disparities
Kathlyn Wee, CEO of UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Maryland and DC, said her region is part of the UnitedHealth group’s “STOP COVID” effort that has worked with underprivileged communities across the country.
He supported the COVID-19 test started at a black church in southeast Washington, which led to a partnership with FiveMedicine and the Leadership Council for Healthy Communities, both of which sought to reduce health disparities.
“We were basically able to get the tests to a place and a group of district residents who were underserved,” said Wee, whose regional division works primarily with African Americans who are both Medicaid eligible and to Medicare.
“FiveMedicine saw a much higher rate of positivity for the site we managed at Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church than what they saw on average for other locations in town,” she said.
This cooperation was followed by initiatives with half a dozen additional churches that provided 2,900 COVID-19 vaccines at the end of March.
UnitedHealthcare provided these sites with supplies, such as non-perishable food boxes and health and safety kits including masks and hand sanitizer.
“The boxes of food that we have made at all the sites are due to the fact that we have seen huge levels of food insecurity, and it is an issue that has an impact on the health of people,” Wee told About food delivered to churches through a partnership with a local food bank.
Respond to needs in a holistic manner
Pastor Charles W. McNeill Jr., whose church in DC was one of the beneficiaries of the tests and food boxes in cooperation with UnitedHealthcare, said the partnerships were proving to be beneficial not only for tests and vaccinations. COVID-19, but also to meet other needs. Beyond the boxes of food, some members of the community received health checkups that led people to seek mental health counseling to deal with the stress of the pandemic.
McNeill, who is also the Faith Liaison Officer for Prince George County, Md., And Wee both said there are plans to further develop partnerships between faith and health professionals. as vaccine eligibility has expanded to people 16 years of age and older across the country.
“What we’ve done around COVID over the past year has been the most significant initiative we’ve done in partnership with community faith-based organizations,” Wee said.
“Wherever we have seen that we have a faith partner who is really able to help us attract the people we want to support, we will continue from there and go back to those partners and try different things.” she said.