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The Voice of the Black Community

Health

Atrium Health program a shot in the arm for COVID-19 vaccinations
Outreach initiative in underserved communities
 
Published Sunday, January 24, 2021
by Herbert L. White

PHOTO | ATRIUM HEALTH
Atrium Health launched the Community Immunity For All initiative last week with COVID-19 vaccinations at First Baptist Church-West. The collaboration with community and corporate groups puts mobile vaccination sites into underserved communities of color.

A health collaborative aims to break down barriers between COVID-19 vaccinations and underserved communities.

Atrium Health’s Community Immunity For All initiative is an effort to vaccinate people disproportionately affected by the coronavirus and acknowledge the history of health inequity in communities of color and educate and people on the benefits of vaccination. Atrium Health is coordinating on-site vaccination sites in Black and Latinx neighborhoods, which started this week at First Baptist Church-West, where 299 people were inoculated, beating the original goal of 250. The goal is 1 million vaccinations by July 4.

“We have all witnessed firsthand the suffering that has occurred in vulnerable communities that don't have access to life-saving care," Atrium Health president and CEO Eugene Woods said. “And our message is quite simple and clear – we see you, and we are here for you.”

Health providers acknowledge convincing vaccination skeptics to get inoculated will be a heavy lift, but earning the trust in the Black community is more daunting because of past atrocities including the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, a government-sanctioned research conducted between 1932-72 on Black men. Even after penicillin was found to be an effective treatment for the sexually-transmitted disease, researchers denied therapy to 399 infected volunteers, who were told they were receiving free health care in return for their participation.

The program, a collaboration between the federal Public Health Service, historically-Black Tuskegee University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, resulted in 128 deaths from syphilis or its complications.

“We know from history that there are a lot of concerns particularly within communities of color, because of stories like Henrietta Lacks or the Tuskegee study that there's very valid concerns and so we approach this work with a lot of humility,” said Kenneil Coltman, Atrium Health’s chief community and social impact officer. “We partnered with community organizations that are trusted in underserved communities we follow their lead we listened to their guidance about the right approach.”


Among the community partners are: First Baptist Church-West, C.N. Jenkins Memorial Presbyterian Church, and Rockwell AME Zion Church. Corporate partners include Honeywell, Tepper Sports and Entertainment, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.


Registration is required to get vaccinations through the Atrium program which is done in accordance with state guidelines prioritizing people age 65 and older as the first recipients.


The initiative consists of:


• Expansion of a mobile COVID-19 testing model for vaccinations and testing in underserved communities.


• Launching an ambassador program of Atrium Health employees and community members who have been vaccinated to educate, inform and support peopled considering doing the same.


• Virtual panels of clinical experts and Atrium Health officials to explore concerns about the vaccine, dispel mistruths and review the science.


• Data infrastructure to track and monitor for health disparities and testing in addition to vaccination needs among the underserved and communities of color.


• Grassroots outreach to trusted community leaders, organizations and clergy to share COVID-19 vaccine-related information.


“It’s been clear to us since we first launched our vaccination work that there is a lot of eagerness within the community to get access to this vaccine,” Coltman said. “We stood up a variety of approaches because we don't think one particular solution is going to solve it for the entire community. We’ve stood up mass vaccination sites, but these sites are more to go into communities that may be experiencing barriers through the registration process online portals, all those other technology-based ways of accessing vaccination appointments that we know for underserved communities that may have barriers to internet access and things like that.


“We need to work very proactively to ensure that that doesn’t present a barrier to getting vaccinated and so that's why this particular model is really unique and different.”


Said North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen: “Community Immunity For All is the kind of collaboration that is needed to ensure equitable access to the vaccine and stop this pandemic. Everyone needs a spot to take their shot – a spot that is trusted and accessible.”


That’s the point of the program, which helps vulnerable populations with appointment scheduling and transportation along with culturally relevant vaccine education and resources.

“COVID-19 has had a devastating effect upon our community and country,” said First Baptist Church-West senior minister the Rev. Ricky Woods. “First Baptist Church-West is honored to have partnered with Atrium Health to make vaccines available to a community that has been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 in Mecklenburg County. The church is not just a healing place for the soul but a place of healing for all the ills that affect us.”
 

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