Immunization rates are lower among refugee, immigrant and migrant (RIM) communities due, in part, to challenges accessing healthcare services. The requirement in most of the U.S., that a person must visit a medical facility to receive medical services, is a large barrier for many individuals and communities, particularly for preventive health care such as immunizations. This is due to many factors which include cost (e.g. time away from work), transportation, and complexity of navigating a medical system for appointments, especially if your primary language is not English. Additionally, many medical facilities do not provide a welcoming environment for RIM communities. As COVID-19 vaccines become available, it is important to address these factors and ensure RIM communities receive the opportunity to be vaccinated.
Making Vaccination Convenient
Bringing medical care, particularly preventive services such as vaccines, to the people, rather than relying on people to find their way to medical services, is more efficient and has much greater efficacy. This is especially important during a public health emergency and is facilitated by thoughtfully considering:
- the location of the vaccine clinic
- economic burden of vaccination
- the need for interpretation services
- future healthcare interactions (such as for a second vaccine dose)
This can practically be accomplished by offering vaccines free of charge, at preferred community locations, and by multilingual/multicultural staff (or with the assistance of a professional interpreter.) If a second vaccine dose is needed, providing details of how to obtain that dose, assistance with logistics, and tailored follow-up should be provided.
Bringing Free Vaccines to Minnesota Communities
An example of a successful strategy to improve community access to vaccines is the Minnesota Immunization Network Initiative (MINI), which was started in 2006 with the goal of reducing vaccination barriers for communities experiencing health disparities.
MINI, in partnership with more than 100 organizations, including the Minnesota Department of Health, has since provided 100,000 free influenza vaccinations to uninsured, underserved populations. They provide these immunizations free of charge at community and faith-based locations and events. Vaccine clinics are hosted by a local partner and occur at sites that include local churches, mosques, schools, community centers, food pantries, and homeless shelters. A healthcare partner provides the vaccine and the staff to administer it. To further increase trust and vaccine uptake, only essential demographic data is collected.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, MINI was able to leverage its existing setup and skillset to allow for a nimble response bringing COVID-19 vaccines directly to RIM communities. As of January 2022, they have administered over 41,000 COVID-19 vaccines. In addition to working with community partners, best practices have included establishing clinics with consistent (predictable) times and places where community members could get vaccinated. In addition, MINI prioritized clinics at locations where the clientele regularly changes (marketplaces, malls, consulates, etc.). With these strategies, MINI has seen success in providing COVID-19 vaccines to clients who identify as Black, Indigenous or People of Color (BIPOC), and for whom English is not their preferred language.
For further information about MINI, contact Ingrid Johansen, MINI Project Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By the numbers
- 41,000 vaccines administered
Outreach to Facilitate COVID-19 Vaccine Sign Up in Pennsylvania’s Older Adults
In Pennsylvania, the Greater Philadelphia Health Action Inc. staff facilitate COVID-19 vaccine sign-ups for community members at the clinic sites by compiling a list of their eligible clients and conducting one to one phone outreach. The federally qualified health center in Philadelphia has been able to assist with COVID-19 vaccination sign-up in the elderly population by eliminating the online sign-up process. “We’re not relying on the Internet for people to schedule appointments. Our team has people who speak multiple languages …[to] get them scheduled right off the bat,” says Dr. Rom, Clinical Director of the Southeast Health Center. The team also holds vaccination clinics at senior homes for those who do not have transportation.