A partnership between a university and the local Black community in San Bernadino County, California, illustrated how pharmacists can actively work to improve vaccine uptake in their communities.
Pharmacists have an important role to play in improving low vaccination rates in their communities if they are willing to become culturally competent, provide evidence-based education, advocate for their communities, and take novel actions to overcome vaccine hesitancy and improve access.
At a session at the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) 2022 Midyear Clinical Meeting & Exposition, Jacinda C. Abdul-Mutakabbir, PharmD, MPH, AAHIVP, assistant professor of pharmacy practice, Loma Linda University, described a collaboration between the university and the local Black community in San Bernadino County in California to improve the county’s low vaccine uptake among those groups.
Thirty percent of Black individuals in the county are fully vaccinated, she said. To say that vaccines are available while also knowing that there is low uptake among marginalized and vulnerable communities requires an understanding of the historical context as to why that happens, as well as recognizing the logistical hurdles that stand in the way of minoritized populations from having true vaccine access.
Cultural competency, she said, “is really just defined as knowing that every individual has different cultural capacities, they have different traits, that everything is different for every single person.”
It also means that “we acknowledge that there are factors as to why individuals may be slow to receive vaccines, and we have to be very empathetic in that regard or disagreement.”
Pharmacists are also uniquely positioned to provide education in their communities, she said.
“We can translate in a way that everyone understands.” She also noted that many resources are available to help busy pharmacists create evidence-based, viable, factual communications about vaccines as well as other tools to overcome vaccine hesitancy.
In February 2021, as the first wave of the initial vaccine rollout was underway, organizations called for equitable access to vaccines, with a focus on removing barriers that stand in the way of actually getting a vaccine.
Around the same time, in San Bernadino County, Black faith leaders asked for help from the university in building trust and helping the communities get access to the vaccine, which at that point was in short supply.
A team was formed with Abdul-Mutakabbir as the pharmacist, a Black psychologist, and a university official who identifies as Hispanic.
Before the vaccination clinics were even held, the team held townhalls to present information to the community, including how the vaccine trials were run, the devastating, disproportional impact of COVID-19 on the Black community, and other information to build trust. Of note, the information presented was first vetted and approved by the faith leaders, who then continued to present the information in church settings.
The vaccination clinics were designed with low barriers to participation, such as by using paper-based registrations and providing transportation. The clinics were held in centrally located churches, usually outside.
Abdul-Mutakabbir delivered the vaccinations, and the entire process was assisted not only by community members but also by students from the university.
The partnership resulted in over 1700 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine being delivered.