Groups band together to share vaccine info
By Amy sokolow
asokolow@ lowellsun. com
Lowell » The city of Lowell is one of the state’s most diverse communities in almost every sense of the word: It’s a city with immigrants from countries all over the world who speak dozens of languages.
In fact, immigration accounted for 90% of the city’s population growth from 2012 to 2019, according to a study by New American Economy. Lowell is also racially, educationally, economically and ideologically diverse.
Although these differences make Lowell the vibrant city it is,
Vaccines » 8A
Colette mckenna, lowell Community health Center rn, tiffany yonhorn, rn, and elizabeth hale, rn, DnP, deliver vaccines to health center staff.
Courtesy lowell Community health Center
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they also make the challenge to vaccinate the city’s residents against COVID-19 that much greater. To meet this challenge ahead of the vaccine’s availability to the public, community health organizations including Lowell Community Health Center, Greater Lowell Health Alliance, and Lowell General Hospital are working with trusted community aid organizations in a unified effort to distribute timely and accurate information about the vaccine rollout.
The Lowell Community Health Center convened almost 20 of these organizations in an initial meeting last month to coordinate this effort. The group has the dual aims of “ensuring equitable access to accurate vaccine information” and “understanding that we have to tailor the message, whether it’s culturally and/or for a specific community to answer the questions that they may have specific to the vaccine, because it could vary,” said Sheila Och, chief of community health & policy at Lowell Community Health Center.
Och also emphasized that different communities receive information on different networks, including Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, radio, T.V., or word of mouth. She will work with organizations trusted in their communities, including faith- based groups, the Boys and Girls Club, the Cambodian Mutual Assistance Organization, the Center for Hope and Healing and the local colleges, to tailor and coordinate these public health campaigns among them.
A major challenge faced by these groups is their clients’ distrust of the health care system or the government, according to Heidi Fantasia, associate professor and department chair at UMass Lowell’s School of Nursing.
“ Whenever you’re working with a population that’s been historically marginalized for any reason, because of poverty, because of race, or ethnicity, or religion, to systemic racism or for any reason, they’re going to come with a set of experiences… with the health care system, with health care providers, that may not exactly be positive,” she said.
She added that the rapid rollout of this vaccine from Operation Warp Speed, along with these experiences faced by marginalized groups, add to existing vaccine hesitancy in this country.
To combat this distrust, experts have said that providing accurate, culturally and language- appropriate information and sharing experiences of community leaders’ vaccination experiences will be critical.
These organizations also must combat misinformation and fear, which Och has already heard among LCHC’s patients. She said patients have tried to get the vaccine at the building, even though it is not yet available to the public. They have also expressed concern about the side effects and efficacy of the vaccine, especially since the discovery of the new virus variant in the U. K. ( White House officials have said they think the vaccine should be effective against this variant.) Och has also heard that some patients question whether the vaccine contains a microchip that will allow the government to track them, which is a false conspiracy theory.
For many community organizations, disseminating information has been their biggest focus throughout the pandemic, particularly for those who work with non- English speaking clients. The Center for Hope and Healing serves individuals who have faced intimate partner violence or sexual violence, many of whom are refugees or immigrants, people of color, LGBTQ+, youth, the housing insecure and/or other groups “ at the margins in our in our communities don’t often get information right away,” according to Isa Woldeguiorguis, executive director of the center.
“ We were hearing from the folks we serve that they didn’t have access to the information. Even at the beginning of the pandemic, we heard folks saying to us, ‘ we don’t really even know what’s going on, information hasn’t come in our languages. What’s the issue? What’s the challenge? What should we do?’” she said. “After that, we understood that we needed to partner with others in the community and with public health to make sure that accurate and timely information could get out to our community.”
She added that CHH will likely play a role in facilitating logistics for their clients, including sending reminders to get both doses of the vaccine and organizing rides to and from the vaccination sites.
Another major challenge is catering to smaller immigrant populations in the area, which is where organizations like the International Institute of New England come in.
“Obviously, the country and communities are scrambling to get these messages to people, and there’s been a lot of efforts to get them to people in all kinds of languages,” said Emma Tobin, the organization’s chief external relations officer. “ It’s one thing to get the message out in Spanish or Portuguese, and it’s another to get it out in Kinyarwanda ( Rwanda’s language) or Pashto ( spoken in Afghanistan and other nearby areas).”
IINE employs both translators and immigrants to serve their clients, who come from countries including Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, Burma, Syria and Iraq.
The large Cambodian population in Lowell often turns to the Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association, which has a captive audience for its culturally appropriate messaging in both English and Khmer. Sovanna Pouv, the organization’s executive director, has focused on disseminating information through social media and a weekly news program created in partnership with Lowell’s community TV network. Even though Lowell’s diversity makes vaccine dissemination a challenge, its tight- knit communities also make it possible.
“ People come together in Lowell, and they roll up their sleeves, and they get the work done,” said Kerrie D’Entremont, executive director of the Greater Lowell Health Alliance. “ We have an enormous amount of support through all of the different organizations in this community doing a lot of amazing work. And I think if we all put our heads together and work on this, I think we can do it together.”