Instilling Vaccine Confidence in BIPOC Communities Takes Time and Trust

An Atlanta vaccine hesitancy coordinator says, “Meet them where they’re at.”

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As fall inches closer, community-based organizations (CBOs) continue to prepare their upcoming vaccination campaigns to ward off another “tripledemic.” 

To learn more about vaccination outreach from CBOs working in historically excluded and BIPOC communities, Public Good News spoke with Noelle Mobley, vaccine hesitancy coordinator at the Center for Black Women’s Wellness (CBWW) in Atlanta, Georgia, about the organization’s concerted efforts to reach and earn the trust of folks who earn low wages, seniors, and pregnant people.  

Public Good News: As COVID-19 indicators continue to rise in the U.S., how is the Center for Black Women’s Wellness implementing the CDC’s three-shot strategy?

Noelle Mobley: It’s still really important for us to continue to talk about [COVID-19], because as you know, it’s still going on. We know that it’s still here, it’s still relevant, it’s not going anywhere. 

I’m sure when [the] influenza [pandemic] first came out in [1918], it was way bigger than what it is right now. But it’s still relevant today. We’re talking about 100 years later, and people are still dying from the flu virus. 

So it’s important for us to educate our clients and the people who we serve; our community—let them know it’s still important to get vaccinated. This new approach that we’re taking on, trying to educate them on all the vaccines, and of the trials and tribulations and some of the misconceptions that others had in the past about other vaccines, can help people gain confidence about this particular vaccine: the COVID vaccine. So that’s what we’ve been trying to work on for this year.

PGN: As you reflect on your strategy these last couple of years, what’s been working? What would you change?

N.M.: This year, we’re gonna stick to what we’ve been doing: working with our community. We like to go out to apartment complexes, we like to go out to the neighborhood, we like to go out to the churches—we really try to meet people where they are at. A lot of our vaccination events have had a huge success rate, especially the ones where we actually go to the apartment complexes or the senior living facilities, or we set up in the clubhouse within the neighborhood. 

That’s the time when we seem to have a better turnout with people getting vaccinated, when they come to the smaller events, when we’re coming to them versus them coming to us. 

So we’re going to continue to use that approach because it’s working. And it is easier for our clients. A lot of them don’t have transportation, so to ask them to try to get on a bus to try to come and get a vaccine... You know? That could be strenuous. You have to think about it from their standpoint. 

Another thing that we are going to do differently this year is have more of a social media presence. We’ve always had a social media presence by providing information about the vaccine and education, but this time we’re trying to utilize some of those previous clients who trusted us to get vaccinated and have become less hesitant about getting the vaccine. We want those individuals to explain to others why the vaccine is important on our social media platforms. Sometimes it’s about seeing a trusted face.

PGN: How has your organization determined who to prioritize in your outreach efforts?

N.M.: We do our own research. For instance, our target population is low-income African Americans. But lately, we have been serving [ages] 35 to 75. We’re all from Atlanta, so we know where our target community is. When you have somebody on the team who is familiar with the community, they’re able to take it up a notch. They’re able to talk to some of these people like their family or their friends, and they’ve known each other for years. 

Even if the person is not from the community, having somebody on the team who can relate…If you can relate to somebody who’s struggling, you can understand where they come from, why they may feel the way that they feel, then you’re gonna have success regardless, because they’re going to be drawn to what you have to say, because you understand where they come from.

PGN: Can you share more about the CBWW’s unique challenges or opportunities in working with vaccinating pregnant people? 

N.M.: Getting [to] that pregnant population has been the hardest. 

We have had some sessions kind of geared more toward [pregnant people], and making them feel more confident in the vaccine, because it is a little bit different for pregnant women versus, I guess, the regular person who’s not pregnant. Obviously, they have more things that they have to worry about. And, you know, their concerns are very valid. With our mothers, we try our best to educate them. But we also do give them that positive reinforcement, letting them know that it’s okay to be concerned about your baby. It’s okay for you to be too concerned about the side effects of the vaccine. So, we provide that follow-up information through those sessions that we’re having with them. 

Ultimately, what we want you to do is make an informed decision, but also make sure that your body is up for it, too. Talk to your medical provider about it. Because you’re pregnant. And I don’t know what you got going on with your pregnancy—every answer is not going to be the same. We still need you to talk to your doctor and see what’s going on with your pregnancy and see if you’re a good candidate to get the vaccine right now. And if you are, then that’s the decision that you should make. 

What I do know is about the safety and efficacy of this vaccine, and it’s pretty much safe, but I still want you to go to your medical provider to get that confirmation. 

And I think that makes them feel more comfortable when you kick it like that. That’s why they end up getting vaccinated with us. Sometimes you just want somebody to be honest and upfront with you, not try to sugarcoat stuff to say what you want to hear.

Watch related videos from PGN in English on Instagram, Facebook, or YouTube and Spanish on Instagram, Facebook, or YouTube.

This article first appeared on Public Good News and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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