How to regain trust in underserved communities such that it boosts pandemic readiness

As we continue down the long Covid-19 tunnel, pandemic response efforts, and the technology associated with them, remain an ongoing process. Going forward, we must consider the experiences of underserved communities and the challenges they have faced regarding vaccine distribution and the overarching supply chain. With this in mind, Yale University and its School of Nursing recently conducted a study, and issued a series of accompanying reports, exploring the challenges faced by minority communities in the wake of Covid-19, particularly those related to vaccine distribution efforts , as well as potential solutions to those challenges.

The Yale study that was commissioned explored the lack of vaccine equity in communities that were skeptical about the vaccine, or lacked adequate information and access to it. The study, which primarily focused on Black, indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) and immigrant communities since early 2020, highlighted a few key obstacles for obtaining the vaccine, such as mistrust, misinformation and lack of access. It also provided key local, state and federal decision-makers with important recommendations on how to avoid the mistrust, misinformation and access barriers that still exist in rural and disadvantaged communities in order to increase vaccination equity and address healthcare issues. The reports offered several specific actions to improve communication among underserved communities in future pandemics or other crises requiring national response efforts.

Addressing mistrust

First and foremost, the Yale researchers found that addressing mistrust, to include acknowledging and validating Black Americans’ concerns, which are rooted in life experiences and historical events, was one of the biggest hurdles to improve access to vaccines. Prior to providing information about the vaccine, public health leaders and healthcare providers should acknowledge past and contemporary injustices and racism as justifiable reasons for mistrust. Increasing trust in vaccines requires short- and long-term strategies that have well-known members of the community deliver pandemic information. For immigrant populations , the response must address general concern about threats to their residency status that could be triggered by engaging with healthcare systems.

Combating misinformation

Secondly, leveraging community leaders to pass along vaccine information also mitigates the rising threat of online misinformation, which plays a significant role in perpetuating a lack of vaccine adoption within minority communities. Developing and hosting town hall meetings and offering phone hotlines were commonly found to help with the growing threat of misinformation as was improving access to information in respective native languages, such as Spanish.

Improving access

Lastly, improving equitable access to healthcare is of the utmost importance. Blacks are less likely than Whites to live near medical health clinics, so vaccines should be available to the diverse array of individuals that make up these communities in a variety of public settings that are trusted, safe and accessible. Clinics should be available at accessible times for those unable to take time off work, and registration requirements should be limited. Within Hispanic communities, successful intervention occurs through the mobilization of local community leaders.

Addressing future pandemics

The solutions to nearly all of these issues will also require technology and supply chain modernization to give agencies real time data from all points along the supply chain. Looking ahead to the next wave of Covid or other future pandemics and crisis events, it’s important to identify integrated and proven strategies that can promote greater racial equity in vaccination and lead to healthier populations. Modernizing the vaccine supply chain is not about the newest technology, but rather using the right strategies and technologies to ensure that we distribute vaccines effectively and equitably.

Photo: Nuthawut Somsuk, Getty Images

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