New CommuniVax Action Plan for Equity in COVID-19 Vaccination and Recovery

Late last year, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security at the Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Department of Anthropology at Texas State University launched the CommuniVax Coalition, a national alliance of social scientists, public health experts, and community advocates dedicated to strengthening local and national COVID-19 vaccination efforts in the U.S. by positioning communities of color at the center of an equitable vaccination campaign. This week, the coalition released a state and local action plan on COVID-19 vaccination, Equity in Vaccination: A Plan to Work with Communities of Color Toward COVID-19 Recovery and Beyond, which outlines five guiding principles for equitable, effective COVID-19 vaccination, paired with specific actions to help ensure that hard-hit communities of color derive systemic social and economic benefits. These five guiding principles are:

  • Iteration: Repeated engagement with Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities is necessary. There is a race to get as many people vaccinated as soon as possible, and this urgency must be balanced with the need to build real trust in BIPOC communities. In many areas, this trust is low or nonexistent, which means that building trust will take time. It will require committing to engaging with BIPOC communities, including organizing productive “listen-and-plan” sessions in which community members have the opportunity to explain their thoughts on COVID-19 vaccination and where officials have the opportunity to listen and hear what is being said, and in partnership, put these ideas into action.
  • Involvement: Moving forward, BIPOC community representatives and advocates must become active collaborators in the public health process. This will involve implementing mechanisms for two-way communication (particularly with trusted leaders, influencers, and pillar institutions in local BIPOC communities) and engaging with these key representatives as partners, not as audiences to persuade or subordinates to command. One way this can be done is by encouraging BIPOC individuals and community organizers to actively participate in the COVID-19 vaccination campaign in ways that respect their self-determination and strengthen their self-reliance. A longer-term approach is to ensure BIPOC individuals are in positions of power in government and public health.
  • Information: Effective communication with BIPOC community members is essential in the ongoing COVID-19 vaccination effort. Applying best practices for communication during this time will be useful for moving forward. As a starting point, it is important to recognize that vaccination messages must be tailored to address the specific concerns of local BIPOC communities. This can be done in one of the following ways (or through a combination of these approaches): identify and support trusted BIPOC individuals and organizations who can relay information and help set community norms related to COVID-19 vaccination, apply learning from “listen-and-plan” sessions to frame COVID-19 vaccination in the communities’ own terms, and enlist allies to blanket BIPOC communities with accurate information that can drown out misinformation.
  • Investment: All of the efforts described above will require investments of time, attention, and funding. At the same time, the vaccination process itself can be viewed as an opportunity for economic revitalization, with the potential to lead communities out of the pandemic and its economic hardships. This type of revitalization is particularly important to BIPOC communities that historically, and presently, are often economically challenged. Practical suggestions for investment include: pull together the necessary resources to ensure COVID-19 vaccination is equitable (meaning, easily available to the most marginalized individuals in the community) and then fight to keep these resources in place moving forward; creatively finance nonprofit and for-profit entities with BIPOC community roots to strengthen the vaccination enterprise; and enlist the help of private capital to support vaccination, for example, by getting transportation companies to commit to providing free rides to and from vaccination sites or by having a local grocery store sponsor a “get vaccinated” poster contest for schoolchildren.
  • Integration: Looking forward to the end of the pandemic, it is important to recognize that recovery will take time. COVID-19 will have long-lasting physical, psychological, and financial effects, especially in BIPOC communities. Because of this, the COVID-19 vaccination campaign cannot be viewed as a final step in returning to “normalcy.” Instead, it needs to be seen as a step toward a more complete recovery that can, and should, include meaningful social change. This can take place as the recommendations outlined above—including “listen-and-plan” sessions, empowering BIPOC individuals and communities, and investing in equitable public health—are integrated into ongoing community initiatives and as government and public health officials commit to ensuring durable social change and community benefits that include adequate housing, food security, living wages, and leadership opportunities.

Equity in Vaccination: A Plan to Work with Communities of Color Toward COVID-19 Recovery and Beyond provides elected and appointed officials with the tools to create, implement, and support a vaccination campaign that works with BIPOC communities to remedy COVID-19 impacts, prevent even more health burdens, lay the foundation for unbiased healthcare delivery, and enable broader social change and durable community-level opportunities.

The action plan was prepared by the coalition’s Working Group on Equity on COVID-19 Vaccination, of which I am a member. The Working Group also includes individuals with expertise from diverse fields such as anthropology, public health, vaccinology, community engagement, and health policy, and includes advocates for specific communities of color. For more information about CommuniVax, please visit here.

We are circulating the report widely, in the hopes that elected and appointed officials will utilize these tools and recommendations to promote equity in COVID-19 vaccination and recovery. Please help us support and encourage equitable vaccination and recovery efforts by sharing this report with your networks!

Beth Weaver
February 10, 2021

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