COVID-19 vaccine equity means that everyone has fair and just access to COVID-19 vaccines. There are many factors that make it harder for people to get vaccinated, and they often disproportionately affect communities of color and people with intellectual or physical disabilities.
As part of its continued commitment to eliminating health disparities, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) has offered funding to help Oregon counties implement local COVID-19 vaccine equity plans. Thirty-four of Oregon’s 36 counties took up this offer earlier this spring:
- All participating counties received 50% of the total allotted funding up front to implement their equity plans.
- Thirty out of 34 met the requirements to receive the second 50% for continued support of this work.
What are some ways to put a successful equity plan into action? Clatsop County has some answers.
Strong partnerships with community partners, local businesses advance vaccine equity
Clatsop County Public Health already had many strategies in place to address health disparities, thanks to strong partnerships with its local coordinated care organization (CCO), community-based organizations, and other partners. At the time it submitted its equity plan, the county had already eliminated many barriers to vaccine access related to language, transportation, misinformation, and geography, including bringing vaccinations to the unsheltered, homebound, workplaces, schools, and community-sponsored events.
When several local seafood processing facilities experienced COVID-19 outbreaks in 2020, the county worked closely with facilities doing onsite employee testing, contact tracing and information sharing; and gained a strong appreciation of the particular challenges facing migrant and seasonal workforces. This also helped inform the county’s strategies for vaccine outreach.
Clatsop County Public Health has also been fortunate to have staff assistant and WIC coordinator Norma Hernandez in their department. An employee with a long history of work with and on behalf of the local Latina community, Norma has performed interpretation services at vaccine and testing events, translated public messaging and provided valuable insight for the department’s public information efforts. Norma was recently honored for her service by the Portland Trail Blazers’ Hometown Hero program.
Data and collaboration are key to shifting the paradigm to look at ‘all parts of the community’
Margo Lalich, Clatsop County’s Director of Public Health, shared how the county’s equity plan became a positive catalyst for change, making existing partnerships and strategies even stronger — as well as creating new ones. Clatsop County used its equity plan to take a step back and look at all parts of its public health system. As Margo explains, this assessment “challenged the system” by asking and answering two questions:
- How does the county use data from OHA, the CCO and local partners to identify underserved groups and their needs?
- How and where can the county invest resources to best support these groups?
To build and sustain an effective equity plan, Margo says, “We really have to pause and reflect — look at both qualitative and quantitative data.” Greater participation by local partners in weekly vaccine task force meetings gave the county the qualitative data it needed. Now as it aims to represent all sectors of the community, the vaccine task force is learning more about the specific factors that affect vaccine equity in those sectors. At vaccine task force meetings, participants share ongoing information about opportunities and challenges related to promoting vaccine equity. The county also meets monthly with Consejo Hispano, Clatsop Community Action and Astoria Warming Center during OHA’s Clatsop County Collaborative.
This data-informed, collaborative approach led to scheduling more vaccine clinics throughout the county, including worksite clinics at food processing plants and restaurants. Progress continues, as reported in its September report to OHA. “Data and collaboration help us to continually reassess our strategy, rethink, and leverage our resources,” Margo says. “What we do informs the numbers. We’ve shifted the paradigm to look at all parts of the community.”
Learn more about your county’s vaccine equity plan
Vaccine equity plans explain how each county will close equity gaps in their community by:
- Engaging local community-based organizations and other partners to increase meaningful, culturally responsive, low-barrier access to vaccines
- Serving the county’s agricultural workers
- Addressing vaccine confidence in the community
- Using culturally appropriate avenues (such as radio, information fairs, trusted community leaders) to dispel misinformation in communities experiencing racial and ethnic vaccine inequities
- Ensuring language accessibility at vaccine events
- Decreasing transportation barriers to accessing vaccine
- Ensuring meaningful, low-barrier vaccine access for youth, especially those from Black, Indigenous, Tribal and other communities experiencing health inequities
- Engage with community leaders from the Black, Indigenous, Tribal, other communities of color to regularly report and review progress on their vaccine equity plans
Learn more about what your county is doing to promote vaccine equity for people in your community by visiting the OHA website.