COVID-19 vaccines are becoming more widely available in the United States. As vaccine allocation includes a larger proportion of the population, understanding and overcoming challenges to vaccination experienced by different communities is essential to ensuring equitable vaccine implementation. Refugee, immigrant, and migrant (RIM) communities are at risk of being excluded from many vaccination opportunities due to various pre-existing barriers related to cultural and linguistic factors, challenges with accessing healthcare, limited transportation options, and a well-founded lack of trust in government organizations. Understanding specific challenges to COVID-19 vaccination experienced by these communities is essential to implementing an effective and equitable vaccine roll-out.
Forming a Collaborative
A "Collaborative" is defined here as a community engagement organizational structure that facilitates productive and efficient communication between health departments and communities. Within this structure, information is shared from the health department directly to participants (who may be individual community members or affiliated with vaccine implementation partners, community-based organizations, and other groups) and feedback from the community is then relayed directly back to the health department. As there is no limitation on the number of members, anyone interested can participate, which provides for a greater diversity of experiences being represented. Additionally, workgroups can be formed within the Collaborative to address identified barriers by developing community-informed strategies.
COVID-19 Vaccine Implementation Collaborative
The Washington State Department of Health has created a COVID-19 Vaccine Implementation Collaborative to inform best practices for vaccine implementation by addressing communities' needs. The Collaborative is focused on communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, including RIM communities. Members are recruited through established community partnerships, local health jurisdictions, and direct outreach to community organizations. Additionally, an interest form is available online and open to any member of the public with a specific invitation extended to those associated with disproportionately impacted communities or vaccination implementation partners. Bi-monthly meetings are held in which the health department briefs Collaborative members about the vaccine program and receives feedback about vaccine planning and outreach efforts. Workgroups will be formed to address specific challenges identified by the Collaborative. There is tremendous community interest in the Collaborative, with over 300 people attending the first meeting. The Collaborative identified vaccine allocation, supply, and distribution as initial priority topics with surveys planned throughout the vaccine response to inform other issues.