Over the last two years, many refugee, immigrant and migrant (RIM) community members have faced major logistical challenges to getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Although COVID-19 vaccines are now more widely available in the United States, mainstream vaccination campaigns have mostly relied on internet-based registration and large sites for mass vaccination, which can be ineffective for RIM communities for various reasons. Registration systems that require English proficiency and technology skills can make it unnecessarily difficult to get an appointment, while vaccination sites like sports venues and convention centers often present transportation challenges. Finally, for those do who manage to register and attend, the complexity of navigating a large vaccination site with unfamiliar staff can be daunting, creating yet another barrier to vaccination.
Bringing Vaccines Directly to the Community
A practical solution to overcome these challenges is providing “pop-up” COVID-19 vaccination opportunities at locations that are convenient and well known to RIM communities. This approach—administering vaccines at places where community members already work, study, worship, play, and gather—makes vaccines more accessible. In early- to mid-2021, health departments across the United States started creating ways for community partners to host these kinds of opportunities.
Health organizations and community organizations should form strategic partnerships in order to identify the best settings and conditions to provide vaccines to their local RIM communities. To successfully host a pop-up vaccine event, they should not only obtain vaccine doses and the necessary staff to administer vaccines, but also provide the following:
- A simplified registration process
- A convenient location for the community
- Multilingual staff (or interpreters)
- For vaccines that require a second dose, follow-up plans communicated clearly at the time of the first dose
Neighborhood Pop-Up COVID-19 Vaccine Site in Seattle
The Somali Health Board and Othello Station Pharmacy have partnered with King County Public Health, Washington State Department of Health, and a variety of local organizations to host more than 100 vaccine pop-up events in the Greater Seattle area.
Their first pop-up clinic provided vaccines to nearly 100 elders, many of them immigrants and refugees, in a senior apartment complex in Seattle. The Washington State Department of Health supplied vaccines to the pharmacy, and the clinic was run by volunteers who registered participants and administered vaccines in a parking lot adjacent to the complex. Nurses offered door-to-door vaccination for elders who were unable to leave their apartments. Apartment community leaders provided interpretation in Amharic, Tigrinya, Oromo, and Somali. Listen to this story on NPR for more details.
The Somali Health Board and Othello Station Pharmacy went on to partner with City of Seattle, hosting pop-up vaccines clinics in 33 public elementary and middle schools. They also hosted four events in partnership with the Drivers Union. In one, more than 500 rideshare drivers were vaccinated. The Somali Health Board and pharmacy have also taken their successful pop-up clinics to community-based organizations, mosques, and churches.
Dr. Ahmed Ali, Executive Director of the Somali Health Board, said: “We really needed to change the mindset that health-related solutions are top-down, where health clinics and hospitals and government systems come to the immigrant and refugee communities and say, ‘this is how you solve these problems and this is what we’re going to do.’ Somali Health Board’s mission has always been that immigrants, refugees and black and brown folks have healthcare professionals within the communities and they understand the issues impacting them. We have solutions based on lived experiences.”
A Pop-up Vaccine Clinic Model to Address Vaccine Hesitancy in Buffalo, New York
The Erie County Department of Health (ECDOH) in New York state worked to address COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in local refugee and immigrant populations using a pop-up clinic model that featured community engagement, effective communication, and convenient care.
First, ECDOH partnered with trusted Afghan community health workers and a local Afghan bakery to hold two COVID-19 vaccine clinics. The community health workers conveyed accurate health information in Dari, Pashto, and English, and dispelled misinformation about COVID-19 and the vaccine. To ensure convenient care, both clinics were held at a local park familiar to members of the Afghan community and accessible via public transportation. Participants in these clinics received gift cards following vaccination and Afghan baked goods. A total of 204 vaccines were administered across the two clinics, including first doses, second doses, and boosters.
ECDOH then extended this model to the local Bangladeshi community. In this case, community engagement involved Bangladeshi community health workers and a Bangladeshi-owned pharmacy and newspaper. The community health workers emphasized the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine in Bengali and English. This pop-up clinic was held at a mosque familiar to local Bangladeshis, and a Halal South Asian restaurant provided refreshments for participants.
Parveen Attai, MPH, Public Health Fellow at the ECDOH, said: “We owe the success of these initiatives to our exceptional community health workers. Community representation is key to increasing vaccine confidence, advancing health equity, and validating the art and science of public health.”
Work Site Pop-Up Vaccination Clinics in Illinois
When the vaccination rollout began in Maine, bringing vaccination clinics to regions where there are several immigrant communities was one way of addressing vaccine needs during a time of limited supply. Collaborating with state and community-based partners, the Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition utilized their already established network of healthcare providers developed through yearly flu clinics to create COVID-19 vaccination sites at public housing units. These pop-up clinics were established as a partnership between community organizations, healthcare providers, and housing property managers. Housing managers called residents to get them signed up for the pop-up clinic, to determine what their preferred language was, and to book residents in blocks based on that information. The pop-up clinic was set up across four different common rooms in the greater building, and residents were grouped based on language to receive vaccines with the support of interpreters and cultural brokers.
Some of MIRC’s community-based member organizations organically started holding several vaccination clinics at their office to serve the community during a time of limited access. Maine Immigrant Access Network (MAIN), an immigrant-led organization that bridges access to health and social services for the New Mainer community, is one such organization. Partnering with Northern Lights Homecare and Hospice to administer the vaccines, MAIN was able to vaccinate over 275 community members with Pfizer and Moderna and had a 100% return rate for the second dose. Through their collaboration with other community organizations, they were able to provide support for over 14 languages that include French, Spanish, Portuguese, Lingala, and Somali reducing linguistic barriers and ensuring the availability of culturally sensitive support. MAIN attributes the success of their clinics to the strong partnership and friendship of its Executive Director, Mohamud Barre, and Northern Light nurse Peggy Akers, emphasizing the importance of building trust and relationships and bringing diverse communities together in support of a common cause.
In March 2021, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) opened up an application process for community partners to host “pop-up” vaccine clinics. This initiative, termed Health Equity Pop-Up Clinics by the department, connects organizations with COVID-19 vaccine providers to administer doses at a location of their choosing. Across the state, several community-based organizations held successful pop-up clinics at familiar, easy to navigate, and culturally sensitive locations, such as their offices, local education centers, and places of worship. As vaccine supply increased, many transitioned to no-appointment, “drop-in” clinics, which helped to further reduce barriers to vaccine access. These community-based pop-up clinics have been instrumental in decreasing barriers to accessing vaccinations and increasing vaccine confidence. As of May 3, 2021, 19 community-based organizations have held pop-up clinics, collectively delivering 1570 doses of COVID-19 vaccines. By administering doses in a familiar environment, where trusted cultural brokers and community health workers can provide crucial language and cultural support, these clinics meet the community where they are and honor their diverse needs. Below is a list of organizations that have held pop-up clinics through this initiative:
Below is a list of organizations that have held pop-up clinics through this initiative: