As a black nurse, seeing how COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted my community and impacted all people of color, I doubled down on my commitment to use my professional expertise to help protect my friends, neighbors and loved ones.
My background allowed me to fully appreciate the promise offered when highly effective vaccines were approved by the government. It meant protection, it meant our communities could reopen, it meant a return to normal.
But there are some hard truths we must confront if we want to encourage persons of color to consider getting the COVID-19 vaccine. We face historical mistreatment of our community by science and medicine, deeply ingrained inequities and limited access.
Inequity happens when biases don’t consider how all communities live and work. Not everyone has a smartphone. Some people don’t have a car. Others don’t have access to the internet or might have a mobile phone that runs on minutes. Add to that they might be working multiple jobs, caring for a family member full-time, or physically challenged.
Once we acknowledge these barriers to vaccination, we need smart strategies that respond to these challenges. We can start by combining forces to take a couple of critical actions. First, we need to cultivate a fleet of trusted messengers. By working with local organizations already connected to those within the community, we can begin to build trust and open up communications in underserved neighborhoods.
In Minnesota, we are making progress, but more work needs to be done. As I work in vaccine clinics, I have seen some effective strategies that are making a difference. Unfortunately, with the recent disclosure of some clotting issues in women 18-48, we have seen a huge decline in vaccinations. There was an official hold for a week and now that the assessment of risk is complete, vaccinations have not picked up for adults over 18.
More and more, vaccines are reaching underserved communities. But, we need to ensure that the entire process meets people where they are. We’ve implemented extended hours to accommodate the working class and those who depend on others to provide transportation.
The people conducting the outreach to sign up for vaccination should be members of the community. The registration and appointment process should not be overly complicated and not require fancy smartphones or apps. We need to speak to people in their own language. And, locations need to streamline the vaccination process because people have jobs and families they need to get back to.
We have worked with numerous leading organizations, including the Minnesota Department of Health, the Stairstep Foundation, Primary.Health, Minneapolis Urban League, Homeland Health Specialists and the State Emergency Operations Center to effectively provide services in our communities of color, for our unhoused populations and in more rural and underserved communities, helping us eliminate digital barriers and meeting people where they are. We need more testing and vaccination providers and healthcare professionals committed to inclusivity, providing services where they are needed most.
On the back end, we need solid data and tracking to ensure we are hitting our goals. We need to calculate everything from the neighborhood demographics to vaccine supply needs per location down to the minute, and everything in between. Whether finding outreach efficiencies or ensuring no wasted doses, we need a stronger strategy for reaching those in need with vaccines – and that includes finding the right arms when we have a surplus of doses at the end of a vaccination day.
Every day when we prep for a COVID-19 testing or vaccination clinic, I think, will we be ready? Will we be able to reach everyone who needs and wants the vaccine today? As we make progress in moving through priority groups for vaccination, we cannot lose focus on equity. Even with the many challenges facing these varied populations, there’s something there as they arrive for their appointments – a vibrancy. One that we are greatly in need of growing, not fading. We can’t let that be yet another casualty of COVID-19.
About Black Nurses Rock & Kelly Robinson, RN
Black Nurses Rock was founded in 2014 by Dr. Romeatrius Moss with the mission of inspiring and empowering innovative leaders that will serve and educate vulnerable communities. With their focus on supporting professional growth and development for African American nurses in the US and abroad, the 501c(3) has amassed more than 175,000 members. Black Nurses Rock not only focuses on professional development, but also act as a catalyst of change, bringing light and life to vital issues within the communities it serves.
Kelly Robinson, RN has been a Registered Nurse (RN) for over 25 years and the founding Minnesota chapter president of Black Nurses Rock. Her professional experience as a nurse ranges from Orthopedic Post-Op, Neurosurgery Post-Op, and Oncology to Pain Management and Medical Devices. During the Black Lives Matter movement following the murder of George Floyd, Robinson and her team of nurses partnered with the City of Minneapolis to support protesters in staying safe.