Community Health Workers Get Vaccinated To Be Allies During Public Rollout
Officials are focused on vaccinating the vaccinators to help speed up roll out of COVID-19 immunizations, but the eligibility schedule also prioritizes the personnel who will convince skeptical populations to get the vaccine.
Community health workers bridge gaps between government officials and hard-to-reach populations, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dalia Mohammad was among the first community health workers to get in line at the county’s newly launched vaccination super site at Petco Park.
“I’m going to make sure that everybody sees that I got the vaccine and then let them know how they can take it and when they’ll be eligible to take it,” said Mohammad, who received her first dose when the site opened on Monday.
Through a partnership with community-based organizations and San Diego County, more than two dozen community health workers like Mohammad are promoting public health information in about 20 languages. Mohammad, who works for License to Freedom and connects with the Kurdish community, said she has accompanied people to COVID-19 testing and debunked false claims around the virus and vaccine.
“There are people who have been getting misinformation on Facebook, on Instagram about what the vaccine can do and this is what they’re posting and they’re spreading,” Mohammad said.
Extending eligibility to community health workers sends an important message, said Corinne McDaniels-Davidson, director of the San Diego State University Institute for Public Health. McDaniels-Davidson leads a county funded program that recruits and trains culturally and linguistically competent contact tracers to track the spread of COVID-19 among diverse populations.
"The relief in their voices when I told them early on that the governor was going to prioritize them, it was really special. They’re being seen and they’re being valued," she said.
McDaniels-Davidson said the 35 contact tracers serving Hispanic, African American, Arabic and Tagalog-speaking residents also conduct home visits for isolated or quarantined community member that may need extra help.
Receiving the vaccine will keep them protected during their jobs and serve as a positive example to community members who already trust them.
"I’m hopeful that there will be a community based rollout of vaccines for the broader community — we can’t expect people who aren’t linked to care traditionally to go in and seek the vaccine, we need to go to them," McDaniels-Davidson said.
Mohammad said she is broadcasting her vaccination to encourage people to take advantage when it’s their turn.
“It is up to us to put it on our social media, go out in the community, talk about it, call people, send text messages, have Zoom meetings and have the entire community sometimes come together in a Zoom class,” Mohammad said.
The rest of the License to Freedom’s staff, which includes counselors for domestic abuse victims, are due to get their first dose this week. Once they have immunity and the vaccine is more widely available, they’ll knock on doors to encourage others to line up for their shot.