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Population Health

Addressing Vaccine Hesitancy in Marginalized Communities

A Message from Steven R. Carson, MHA, BSN, RN

Physicians in the Temple Care Integrated Network have seen the great toll of COVID-19 on patient populations who often already face systemic discrimination and marginalization. You have been on the frontlines of dealing with that impact. Now there is some light at the end of the tunnel, if only we can partner with our communities effectively on prevention.

Many lives will be saved if our patients are able to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Yet conversations about vaccination can be very difficult, especially with patient populations who have a history of being exploited and their wishes disregarded by the medical establishment.

It is vital that we as practitioners take these concerns seriously and acknowledge where they come from. A recent joint policy brief by the Trust for America’s Health, National Medical Association, and UnidosU summarizes some challenges and recommendations for communicating with historically marginalized patient populations about COVID vaccines.

Their findings include:

  • Some communities of color, including Black communities, display higher levels of COVID vaccine hesitancy than the general population, due in part to an egregious history of medical maltreatment—from the Tuskegee experiments to forced sterilization, to the nonconsensual and uncompensated use of stem cells.
  • Building trust in the vaccines, AND helping patients access them, is required to control the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Individual vaccine hesitancy can change based on what people hear and their circumstances.
  • Working closely with community leaders of color is vital to facilitate vaccine distribution and administration.
  • The rapid development of the vaccine has not given sufficient time to address hesitancy before the rollout (meaning we as physicians must now address this in our practice).
  • Education campaigns around vaccination should take care to involve trusted messengers and existing health communications networks, and should be “culturally and linguistically appropriate”.

Temple remains committed to supporting you at all times; we hope that the resources and referral opportunities in this issue of BestPractice will be valuable to you as we all work to care for those most harmed (including COVID “long-haulers”) and start putting an end to this pandemic.

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