Many refugee, immigrant and migrant (RIM) community members experience significant logistical barriers to COVID-19 vaccination. As vaccine allocation in the United States includes increasing numbers of people, many vaccine campaigns rely on internet-based registration and large sites for mass vaccination. This strategy can be ineffective for many RIM communities due to a variety of factors. Limited English proficiency or technology capability can prevent successful registration while transportation barriers impact the ability to reach the location where vaccines are administered. Additionally, the complexity of navigating a large and confusing vaccination site with unfamiliar staff is intimidating, resulting in yet another barrier to vaccination.
Bringing Vaccines Directly to the Community
Providing vaccination opportunities at community locations can bypass many of the barriers mentioned above and protect both vaccinated individuals and the community at large against COVID-19. Strategic partnerships between health organizations and communities can identify optimal vaccine provision opportunities for a community. In addition to obtaining vaccine doses and the necessary staff to administer vaccines, considerations for implementing a community-based vaccination strategy should include the use of multilingual staff (or interpreters), a simplified registration process, and a convenient location for the community. If the vaccine provided requires a second dose, plans to provide that dose should be established and communicated when the first dose is given.
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, says: “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.”
Work Site Pop-Up Vaccination Clinics in Illinois
During the COVID-19 response, the Champaign Urbana Public Health District (CUPHD) developed trusted relationships with the Economic Development Council and the Chamber of Commerce, who communicate regularly. CUPHD has collaborated with the business community to discuss COVID-19 prevention, misinformation, occupational health, and worker safety and has engaged with the employment/business industry on several calls throughout the past year. Due to the sustained engagement of the Economic Development Council and CUPHD, business providers within the community have reached out to CUPHD requesting on-site vaccine pop-up clinics for their employees. Additionally, CUPHD has partnered with meat processing plants in their local area to host on-site pop-up vaccination clinics at the plants. This collaboration is successful due to buy-in from the employer, as employees are able to quickly be vaccinated, without needing to take time off work and eliminating the transportation barrier. Moreover, manufacturing plants, that are heavily immigrant and migrant staffed, have also been the sites for pop-up clinics for COVID-19 vaccine.
COVID-19 Vaccine Sites at Neighborhood Locations in Maine
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: