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COVID-19 Vaccine Equity: Connecting With Communities

Published May 24, 2021

Johns Hopkins Medicine is dedicated to providing equitable care to all

Johns Hopkins personnel administer the COVID-19 vaccine to a patient

A Johns Hopkins employee administers the COVID-19 vaccine to a community member.

Caring for neighboring communities is essential to the mission of Johns Hopkins Medicine (JHM). During the COVID-19 pandemic, JHM has strived to stay at the forefront of continuous changes in medicine and care options as they evolve, including by providing testing for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, performing best practices to prevent the spread of illness, and offering innovative therapies, emotional support resources, language access options and, now, COVID-19 vaccines.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has made health disparities even more apparent, JHM knows that providing equitable access to care is incredibly important. As part of this effort, Johns Hopkins Medicine continues to develop new ways to offer access to information and services for all populations with a focus on those that are most vulnerable to the worst effects of the illness. It is important to meet community members where they live and to ensure that everyone who wants a vaccine can get one when supply is available.

“We need to make sure we continuously remove barriers that impede access to care, many of which have existed long before COVID-19, so everyone can get a vaccine,” says Sherita Golden M.D., M.H.S. “JHM is committed to building the trust of our community by collaborating with partnering organizations to reach populations that may not have the information they need about vaccines and the options available to them. Many people want to know what their pastor and neighbors think about the vaccine, and we need to work with our communities’ trusted messengers and arm them with information to help their communities.”

Initially, vaccine supply was extremely limited, and JHM had very little insight regarding how much vaccine it would receive on a weekly basis from the government. Considering these challenges, Johns Hopkins took a methodical approach to rolling out COVID-19 vaccine to communities.

As the pandemic progresses and government agencies continue to open COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to certain demographic groups, Johns Hopkins Medicine remains committed to providing services for its community and information about COVID-19 developments access to care.

Johns Hopkins Medicine has various partnerships and programs to reach its neighbors in nearby communities. For example, Maryland and Washington, D.C., providers collaborate with local governments to help vaccinate groups such as public-school employees. JHM is also going on-site to housing facilities for older people in Baltimore and Washington to vaccinate highly vulnerable residents in the comfort of their living spaces, which helps break down transportation challenges for those with mobility issues.

While mass vaccination options grow, many community members are best served by a community vaccination clinic due to language barriers and health and transportation challenges.

Johns Hopkins Medicine is conducting comprehensive vaccination clinics across Baltimore and Washington, in partnership with a variety of faith-based and homeless advocacy organizations, to equitably provide COVID-19 vaccines to the most vulnerable populations. JHM is also working closely with Latino community organizations, such as the Esperanza Center and Centro SOL, to make sure everyone who wants a vaccine can receive one without communication barriers.

“We know communities of color are being disproportionally impacted by COVID-19, “says Katie O’Conor, M.D., operations chief for Johns Hopkins Medicine’s unified command. “That’s why it is so important that we bring the vaccine to people in the neighborhoods where they live, and work with trusted community leaders to offer this as a welcoming option in a place where people feel safe and surrounded by their communities.”

A key barrier to seeking care is limited access to critical information. JHM has developed informative materials that are easily understandable by neighbors on all reading levels, translated them into several languages and distributed them among various communities. JHM also offers language access services, and printed materials and toolkits — particularly for vulnerable communities without access to digital communication.

Another important collaboration is with Mary’s Center that serves more than 60,000 minority community members. Over the next few months, JHM will connect this community with Johns Hopkins experts through Facebook, radio and television, so that health questions can be submitted by phone or mobile device and answered in real time. Mary’s Center also connects its members to JHM Espanol, the Johns Hopkins Medicine Spanish language portal, through its web homepage.

JHM has developed a new data tool — a vaccine prioritization dashboard — that helps people with disabilities determine when they qualify for the COVID-19 vaccine. The website, designed and run by researchers, students, and advocates for people with disabilities, aims not only to help the disabled community be informed and get vaccinated, but also to arm policymakers with data that can aid them in improving the health care system.

JHM collaboration spans community partners as well as fellow health care systems. Johns Hopkins is working with the state of Maryland and the University of Maryland Medical System to provide care at the Baltimore Convention Center field hospital. This care site, which was quickly mobilized very early in JHM’s pandemic response, is the city’s longest continually operating field hospital that offers COVID-19 testing, monoclonal antibody infusion therapy and vaccinations, as well as clinical care outside of a traditional hospital setting.

“It is critical to us to collaborate and use all the resources available to educate and reach all people about the dangers of COVID-19 and the importance of the vaccine,” says Gabor Kelen, M.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response. “Diversity and equity are among our core values, and it is our responsibility to ensure we reach every member of the community in any way we can, to provide equitable access to health care and hope for the end of this pandemic.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine will continue to do everything possible to ensure that those who want and can get a COVID-19 vaccine have the opportunity to do so. Importantly, JHM wants to help reach people who don’t have the information they need to make a decision about getting the vaccine. It is JHM’s mission and privilege to serve its communities equitably and compassionately.

For more information about the COVID-19 vaccine, please visit the Johns Hopkins Medicine vaccine webpage here. For more information about health equity, please visit here.

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