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Health Hub at 25th: Improving access for Black people to the COVID vaccine

Partnerships, education and outreach boost vaccine participation.

The Rev. Anthony Chandler gets vaccinated. The Rev. Anthony Chandler gets vaccinated at the VCU Health Hub at 25th. (Photo: Thomas Kojcsich, University Marketing)

In Richmond, more than twice as many Black people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 as white people. Since vaccinations began on Jan. 22, 2021, the VCU Health Hub at 25th has administered over 2,200 COVID-19 vaccines to a predominantly Black population.

We talked with Byron Hunter, VCU Health Director of Community Health Initiatives, about how the VCU Health Hub is reaching out to the community hardest hit by COVID-19.

Byron HunterHow is the VCU Health Hub at 25th reaching out to the Black community?

VCU Health follows the Vaccine Health Equity guidelines set by the Virginia Department of Health to increase access to communities of color. Our approach includes collaborating with Richmond City Health District, community-based organizations, city leaders, faith leaders and health care providers to understand vaccine hesitance and to provide coordinated access to community members.

We began our efforts in the East End, which is a historically Black community and home to four of the city’s public housing developments. We streamline the process to make it easy for individuals to set up a vaccine appointment. We then provide reminder calls, assist with transportation and provide health education resources to answer questions to enable community members to make informed decisions.

 

What do you see as the biggest barriers Black people face in accessing the vaccine? How is the Health Hub addressing those barriers?

Common barriers include medical and vaccine mistrust, access to care and limited knowledge. The COVID-19 vaccine is still a very new health technology, so many individuals are skeptical about its relevance and effectiveness. Many early adopters have received their vaccines. We are now shifting our outreach strategy to provide vaccine health education to increase confidence and uptake among the remaining community members.

Next, when the vaccines were approved for use there was limited access as only a few community-based clinics provided appointments. In most cases, individuals must register online, which can be a barrier for those with health literacy issues or limited technology. Over time, additional sites have become available to provide opportunities for vaccines. The Health Hub at 25th is an example of a community-based clinic that works in partnership with local health partners to removes barriers through our community-centered and coordinated approach.

Why is VCU Health uniquely positioned to do this work?

VCU health is positioned to do this work because we are thoughtful with our community engagement approach and can mobilize internal resources quickly. First, many of the conversations that we have with community members are facilitated through work with community partners.

For example, when we began our vaccine program, we engaged several pastors in the East End and equipped them with tools to assist individuals with scheduling. We also hosted special clergy clinics to provide access to many faith-leaders. Over time we developed a network of community leaders to help us spread the word and build trust with the community.

Next, VCU Health mobilized an operations team and Vaccine Corps comprised of students from across both the Monroe Park and MCV campuses to respond to this public health emergency. The operations team oversees the Vaccine Program Strategy for inpatient, outpatient and community-based sites, and the Vaccine Corps provides volunteer vaccinators and administrative support staff for VCU Health-sponsored events and other community-based events. This enables us to extend our reach beyond downtown RVA and demonstrates our commitment to serving the underserved while training the next generation of health providers.

How do you scale up now that everyone 16+ is eligible for the vaccine?

We will continue to work with Richmond City Health District to understand the needs of the community. While we are heavily concentrated in the East End, we will continue to explore ways to partner with the health district and other providers to expand access across the city through our Vaccine Corps.

What advice do you have for other clinics or health systems trying to reach underserved and vulnerable communities?

My advice would be to develop a Vaccine Ambassadors Program to leverage relationships with others who are engaged in ongoing efforts to support the community.  Do not recreate the wheel but rather focus on joining efforts with others who have already built trusting relationships with community members.

Is there anything else you'd like us to know?

The pandemic is not under control, and thousands of people are still dying from COVID-19 every day across the global. We're not out of the woods yet; therefore, we should continue to practice the safety guidelines as recommended by the CDC to include social distancing, wearing masks, practicing hand hygiene and seeking out opportunities to get a vaccine when appropriate.

For a variety of news and information on COVID-19 and how VCU Health is keeping patients safe, please visit our COVID-19 News Center

See All News See Vaccine News

See How We're Addressing Barriers Sign Up for E-Newsletter

In Richmond, more than twice as many Black people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 as white people. Since vaccinations began on Jan. 22, 2021, the VCU Health Hub at 25th has administered over 2,200 COVID-19 vaccines to a predominantly Black population.

We talked with Byron Hunter, VCU Health Director of Community Health Initiatives, about how the VCU Health Hub is reaching out to the community hardest hit by COVID-19.

Byron HunterHow is the VCU Health Hub at 25th reaching out to the Black community?

VCU Health follows the Vaccine Health Equity guidelines set by the Virginia Department of Health to increase access to communities of color. Our approach includes collaborating with Richmond City Health District, community-based organizations, city leaders, faith leaders and health care providers to understand vaccine hesitance and to provide coordinated access to community members.

We began our efforts in the East End, which is a historically Black community and home to four of the city’s public housing developments. We streamline the process to make it easy for individuals to set up a vaccine appointment. We then provide reminder calls, assist with transportation and provide health education resources to answer questions to enable community members to make informed decisions.

 

What do you see as the biggest barriers Black people face in accessing the vaccine? How is the Health Hub addressing those barriers?

Common barriers include medical and vaccine mistrust, access to care and limited knowledge. The COVID-19 vaccine is still a very new health technology, so many individuals are skeptical about its relevance and effectiveness. Many early adopters have received their vaccines. We are now shifting our outreach strategy to provide vaccine health education to increase confidence and uptake among the remaining community members.

Next, when the vaccines were approved for use there was limited access as only a few community-based clinics provided appointments. In most cases, individuals must register online, which can be a barrier for those with health literacy issues or limited technology. Over time, additional sites have become available to provide opportunities for vaccines. The Health Hub at 25th is an example of a community-based clinic that works in partnership with local health partners to removes barriers through our community-centered and coordinated approach.

Why is VCU Health uniquely positioned to do this work?

VCU health is positioned to do this work because we are thoughtful with our community engagement approach and can mobilize internal resources quickly. First, many of the conversations that we have with community members are facilitated through work with community partners.

For example, when we began our vaccine program, we engaged several pastors in the East End and equipped them with tools to assist individuals with scheduling. We also hosted special clergy clinics to provide access to many faith-leaders. Over time we developed a network of community leaders to help us spread the word and build trust with the community.

Next, VCU Health mobilized an operations team and Vaccine Corps comprised of students from across both the Monroe Park and MCV campuses to respond to this public health emergency. The operations team oversees the Vaccine Program Strategy for inpatient, outpatient and community-based sites, and the Vaccine Corps provides volunteer vaccinators and administrative support staff for VCU Health-sponsored events and other community-based events. This enables us to extend our reach beyond downtown RVA and demonstrates our commitment to serving the underserved while training the next generation of health providers.

How do you scale up now that everyone 16+ is eligible for the vaccine?

We will continue to work with Richmond City Health District to understand the needs of the community. While we are heavily concentrated in the East End, we will continue to explore ways to partner with the health district and other providers to expand access across the city through our Vaccine Corps.

What advice do you have for other clinics or health systems trying to reach underserved and vulnerable communities?

My advice would be to develop a Vaccine Ambassadors Program to leverage relationships with others who are engaged in ongoing efforts to support the community.  Do not recreate the wheel but rather focus on joining efforts with others who have already built trusting relationships with community members.

Is there anything else you'd like us to know?

The pandemic is not under control, and thousands of people are still dying from COVID-19 every day across the global. We're not out of the woods yet; therefore, we should continue to practice the safety guidelines as recommended by the CDC to include social distancing, wearing masks, practicing hand hygiene and seeking out opportunities to get a vaccine when appropriate.

For a variety of news and information on COVID-19 and how VCU Health is keeping patients safe, please visit our COVID-19 News Center

See All News See Vaccine News

See How We're Addressing Barriers Sign Up for E-Newsletter