Immunization rates are lower among refugee, immigrant and migrant (RIM) communities due to factors which include cultural and linguistic diversity, knowledge and beliefs about a disease and vaccine, and challenges accessing healthcare (related to cost, transportation, medical system complexity/unfamiliarity, lack of welcoming environment, etc.). This challenge is expected to persist as the COVID-19 vaccine becomes increasingly available.
RIM communities are culturally diverse and vary in experience with vaccines. Partnering directly with communities is essential to identify factors influencing a community’s vaccine response, facilitate trust, and guide vaccine communications and provision. Faith-based organizations frequently play an integral role within communities, but, unfortunately, federal, state, and local public health are often hesitant to seek partnerships. To best facilitate community involvement in vaccine campaigns, these faith-based organizations should be included in vaccine campaigns.
Community Clinic and Faith Leaders Partner to Encourage Vaccine Confidence in Minnesota
One example of a successful partnership is an event co-organized by a leaders from a community clinic and the Somali community in Minnesota. Elder Imams from across the state came to Community-University Health Care Center (CUHCC) to receive COVID-19 vaccinations. Imam Sharif Mohamed from Dar al-Hijrah Mosque helped to organize the event to encourage vaccine confidence within the Somali community. Imam Sharif and other Somali faith leaders saw the need to help promote and advocate for increased COVID-19 vaccination and decided to lead by example. Sixteen Imams volunteered to get the vaccines. The event was filmed by Somali media outlets and was viewed more than 200,000 times in the first week by people in Minnesota, across the U.S., and around the world. The partnership between CUHCC leadership, staff and medical providers, a Disparities in COVID Response Task Force, and the Somali community and faith leaders made this event possible. “Having close relationships between community leaders and Somali medical providers helps in the fight against COVID,” said Imam Sharif.
Partnerships with Faith-Based Organizations in Minnesota
Another example of a successful partnership 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 faced by communities experiencing health disparities.
MINI has since provided 100,000 free influenza vaccinations to uninsured, underserved populations by tailoring vaccine provision to a community’s needs. Their success has been largely attributed to partnerships and collaborations with faith-based and grass-roots community organizations, which now number more than 100 and represent a diverse array of cultures. Once partnerships are established, it is important to maintain community trust through ongoing engagement efforts.
Important partnership concepts learned from the MINI experience include:
- long-term commitment to the community
- empowerment of community partners
- relationship building prior to project implementation
- working with faith communities
Based on MINI’s experience and successes, community partnerships and intentional engagement with faith-based organizations is highly encouraged during COVID-19 vaccine outreach. For further information about MINI, contact Ingrid Johansen, MINI Project Director, at email@example.com.