Pharmacist Leverages Trust to Improve Vaccine Confidence Among Black Community Members

Eva Vivian, PharmD, PhD, (wearing red mask) educating a vaccine hesitant youth and parent about the COVID-19 vaccine at the Goodman Community Center in Madison, Wisconsin.

“The African American Health Network [AAHN] of Dane County is keenly aware of the hesitancy many Blacks have about receiving the vaccine, so several members of the Network went to local community centers and discussed the importance of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine,” said Eva Vivian, PharmD, PhD, a professor of pharmacy practice at the University of Wisconsin School of Pharmacy in Madison. “We spoke to people in groups and had one-on-one conversations. We’ve been committed to ensuring as many people in our community are vaccinated against COVID-19 as possible.”

Since 2013, Vivian has served as president of AAHN, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to foster networking among African American health professionals committed to improving the health of African American community members in Dane County. “At the onset of the pandemic, AAHN was involved in obtaining masks and hand sanitizer and distributing these products to underserved communities. We also provided education on strategies to avoid contracting the COVID-19 virus,” said Vivian.

AAHN uses a three-step approach to establish their mobile education and vaccination clinics: (1) engaging with faith-based organizations and community centers serving low-income neighborhoods, (2) using the influence of Black health care professionals and community leaders to deliver education about COVID-19 vaccinations, and (3) holding mobile vaccination clinics at various churches and community centers, Vivian explained.

AAHN partnered with the Goodman Community Center, a central location in the Madison area where there are several low-income housing apartments. “We contacted the community center and spoke to the CEO who was enthusiastic about this partnership. The private nonprofit center played a significant role because they have a great outreach program,” said Vivian. The community center director and staff distributed more than 500 fliers throughout the neighborhood, sent electronic newsletters to over 1,000 people, encouraged patients to share their experiences via word of mouth, and advertised through social media and media news.

“These community leaders were integral in the success of this initiative, since they are trusted messengers who have established direct communication with members in the Black community,” said Vivian. They also managed registration and coordinated educational sessions about COVID-19 vaccinations for their community members, which often occurred before the mobile vaccination clinic events. The community leaders addressed the facts and fears associated with the COVID-19 vaccine utilizing materials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

AAHN hired Goodman Community Center employees, who also live in some of the nearby neighborhoods, to visit local residents and share their experience with being vaccinated and any side effects they might have had. Community members were also encouraged to speak to the pharmacists running the clinics or ask their health care provider any questions they may have about the vaccine. Interactions with familiar faces made a significant impact on the success of the vaccination events.

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The Triangle Neighborhood area, consisting of three apartment buildings with more than 400 housing units, had a group of vaccine hesitant African American and Latino seniors. Other organizations had attempted to offer vaccinations, but there was little interest. Vivian asked an AAHN member, who had a good relationship with a community leader, to speak with the residents about their community’s concerns and hesitations.

“We found that this group was actually offended by [unfamiliar] professionals coming in, setting up a clinic, and expecting that people would leave their apartments to be vaccinated. Residents wanted to learn about the vaccine and have their questions answered,” said Vivian. “[AAHN] held workshops, offered lunch, and answered people’s questions.” No vaccinations were given, but a sign-up sheet was available to gauge peoples’ interest. Since 70 people signed up, a vaccination clinic was scheduled. “We took the time and answered questions. That is what made the difference,” said Vivian. Presently, these efforts have led to 445 doses given to Black, vaccine hesitant, community members.

Shareable Patient Resources and guidance to Reach Diverse Communities to advance COVID-19 vaccine confidence are available by clicking the hyperlinks.