Health Care for All just completed a new phase of community engagement work as part of the Vaccine Equity Initiative (VEI), and we are very excited to reflect on and share our successes.

Funded by the Massachusetts Department of Health and implemented in partnership with Health Resources in Action (HRiA), the campaign took a multifaceted approach to reduce barriers to vaccination in underserved populations and involved three separate strategies: outreach activities performed by seven core community-based organizations (CBOs), a month-long back-to-school push, and a phone-banking operation. By the end, these three distinct efforts led to meaningful outcomes in the quest to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates and booster adherence, with over 2,000 vaccinations in arms as a direct result of the campaign and nearly 50,000 conversations with Massachusetts residents about the vaccine.

Community- and Faith-Based Organization Outreach

HCFA’s partnerships with CBOs were integral to the success of this campaign. These organizations worked on the ground and within their communities to organize events, hold vaccine clinics, and distribute factual information about the COVID-19 vaccine. HCFA worked with seven organizations who had excelled on previous VEI iterations. These organizations were:

These CBOs employed multiple tactics to encourage their community members to stay up to date with their COVID-19 vaccinations. Organizations worked hard to meet communities where they were, both geographically and in regard to their comfort levels with the vaccine. For example, connecting with busy individuals by tabling outside of a popular local supermarket to provide them with outreach many would not otherwise have received. Some organizations also recorded interviews with doctors discussing the vaccine in American Sign Language or languages other than English to reach often-underserved populations in Massachusetts.

To boost interest and participation in clinics, HCFA’s VEI partners also offered people incentives like gift cards to local supermarkets. Nearly every organization gave Personal Protective Equipment supplies away, which included masks, COVID rapid tests, and hand sanitizer. At one partner-held clinic, gift cards were so effective they had to extend hours to get everyone in attendance vaccinated. Other organizations paired COVID vaccinations with the opportunity to receive other care, such as immunizing against the flu. Organizations also used fun community events as places to hold vaccine clinics to promote attendance. One organization made connections with their local school system and school representatives were present during events to distribute information and promote vaccination clinics in the area to families. Others partnered with one another and other stakeholders in their area to co-host vaccine clinics.

Back-to-School Push

In the lead up to students returning to school in the fall, HCFA partnered with 12 CBOs from HRiA’s VEI cohort for a month-long back-to-school effort. These CBOs received additional funding to promote existing vaccine clinics with materials, events, and incentives to ensure that children and their families were protected with the most up-to-date COVID-19 vaccinations before entering the classroom. Events in which CBOs offered school supplies such as backpacks alongside vaccine information or the vaccine itself were particularly successful. The bivalent booster was released around this time, causing an added challenge as guidelines and availability of vaccines were affected. Organizations were able to overcome this challenge by being prepared with the most recent factual information and extending the vaccination push to give providers more time to stock the bivalent booster. This brief effort once again showcased the trust that families and the wider community have in their local organizations to provide reliable information and support.

Phone-Banking Outreach

HCFA worked with Community Care Cooperative (C3) and Onyx Communications – a specialized marketing consulting firm – to develop and execute a phone-banking program that aimed to spread information about COVID-19 vaccination and vaccination centers. The phone-banking program microtargeted households that may have needed an extra push to get up-to-date on their vaccinations based on information provided by key C3 participating health centers. Phone-bankers used three rounds of calls to identify households not yet up-to-date on their vaccinations, including the bivalent booster, and determine the reason they were not up-to-date. As a next step, they would help them develop a plan to get vaccinated, and would check once more to see if they had then followed through. The two most common reasons given for not being up-to-date of those who answered the question were distrust in the vaccine or in the government, the belief that the pandemic was over, or the lack of access to the vaccine. In the last round of calls, among individuals who responded to whether everyone in the house was now caught up on their COVID-19 vaccinations, 52.4% said they were now fully vaccinated including the booster.

HCFA is immensely proud of the success of this campaign as a whole and of our invaluable partners. We feel this work is hugely important and in line with HCFA’s overall mission to promote health equity. Because of this, HCFA’s efforts with the VEI are not over yet! We are excited to announce that a new iteration of this work, what we call the VEI 2023, is already underway in tight collaboration with DPH.

Sabrina Lingeman is a campaign assistant at Health Care For All.