As Delta variant cases surge, 221 Community Health Workers reach out to 1.8 million people in rural underserved areas to promote vaccination

Special to the Greene County Democrat

Home call nurse or doctor vaccinating a man at home – wearing face mask

Alianza Nacional de Campesinas (Alianza), Migrant Clinicians Network (MCN), Rural Coalition (RC) and 23 more organizational partners and members have mobilized 221 community health outreach workers across 20 states and Puerto Rico to encourage vaccination within Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) rural communities.
Funded by an $8.1 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the effort aims to raise vaccination rates among immigrant and migrant farmworkers, and rural communities of color.
Across the country, since June 15 of 2021, more than 1.8 million people have been reached, and 23,963 people have reported receiving the vaccine as a direct result of such contact. The outreach has occurred through culturally relevant, community-health based approaches including one-on-one conversations, door-to-door canvassing, informational and Q&A sessions on COVID-19 and vaccine efficacy, cultural events, food distribution drives, and through mobile and static vaccination clinics, as well as T.V, radio, and social media.
“The 15 Rural Coalition partner groups have employed their deep network of trusted relationships in the Black, Tribal, and Latino communities they serve,” said Rural Coalition Director Lorette Picciano. “In a short window of time, RC groups have hired and trained over 140 outreach and other staff who live in 95 of the most vulnerable rural counties in the nation.”
The Alabama State Association of Cooperatives (ASAC) is one of the Rural Coalition member organizations that is implementing this program in eight counties of the western Alabama Black Belt including: Greene, Sumter, Choctaw, Pickens, Hale, Marengo, Perry and Dallas. ASAC has two part-time health workers in each of its eight counties, working on outreach, education and promotion of vaccinations.
These leaders know how to reach their communities – during farmer events and to mayors of historic Black towns, and at barber shops and a Blues Fest in Oklahoma; at tribal events in the Carolinas, Maine, Minnesota, South Dakota, Virginia and Wisconsin; with a Mobile Vaccine van in southeast Alabama that also supplies check-up and prescriptions; and at summer fairs in Kansas.
In farmworker communities in Florida, the Imperial Valley of California, and at the border in Texas and New Mexico they are using one-on-one outreach combined with community events; and in El Paso, using a radio station run by the local organization to interview workers about the vaccines. Also in El Paso, women workers are reaching out in neighborhoods and community centers they organized after the garment factories left.
In southeast and west Alabama, newspaper coverage is combined with flyers distributed door-to-door, or at community events. In Puerto Rico, over 100 community members in a hard to-reach rural community were able to get connected to vaccines. A college student who struggled to get the vaccine needed to return to college is now organizing vaccine access for other students in NC. Also in NC, a Sunday vaccine caravan also brought vaccines and information to numerous churches and community centers. In rural South Carolina, the local pharmacy temporarily ran out of vaccines due to the effective community outreach to Black and Latino families via youth programs and visits to local apartment complexes.
Community health outreach workers are members of the same communities – they are farmworkers, small and beginning farmers and ranchers, spiritual and local leaders, former and current health professionals, parents, and caretakers. With weekly trainings and technical guidance from Migrant Clinicians Network, organizational members of Alianza and the Rural Coalition are bringing the vaccine to their communities and engaging in challenging conversations at the roots of vaccine hesitancy – from fear and distrust, to domestic violence and structural and financial barriers, including language access, concerns related to immigration status, racism, xenophobia and misogyny.
As of August 25, 2021, 936,000 farmworkers have contracted COVID-19 according to the Purdue Food and Agriculture Vulnerability Index. Preliminary findings estimate that food and agriculture workers have a 38% higher risk of COVID-19 induced mortality – the highest amongst essential workers. At the same time, rural communities, and especially rural BIPOC communities, have experienced greater barriers to treatment and care during the pandemic, with fewer hospitals, fewer physicians specializing in critical care, and fewer Intensive Care Units.
A study by APM Research Lab found that, by March of 2021, 1 in 475 Indigenous people and 1 in 645 Black people had died from COVID-19 compared to 1 in 665 White people. Although only 20% of U.S. counties are disproportionately Black, they accounted for 52% of COVID-19 diagnoses, and 58% of COVID-19 deaths nationally, including in rural communities in the Southeast with higher than average unemployment rates and inadequate access to healthcare.
Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, Migrant Clinician’s Network, and Rural Coalition are proud to join forces to support and resource local BIPOC rural communities in raising vaccination rates, and, as such, combat long-standing structural health inequities that have plagued BIPOC communities for centuries. In the end, it is these same communities that are mobilizing, organizing, and caring for each other to a cure.

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