Healing from the Past: The Role of Ambassadorship in Boosting Vaccine Confidence Among Communities of Color
Kecia Kelly, DNP, RN, FACHE, VP, Chief Nursing Officer, Northern California Division, CommonSpirit Health and VP, Chief Nursing Officer and Chief Operating Officer at Dignity Health Saint Francis Memorial Hospital and Dignity Health St. Mary’s Medical Center
Kecia Kelly, DNP, RN, FACHE, says she is concerned about the number of people who still are hesitant to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Particularly with Black communities, I’ll hear references to the Tuskegee experiment and a general distrust of medicine as reasons for declining the vaccine,” says Kelly, who serves a dual role as VP, Chief Nursing Officer for our Northern California division and VP, Chief Nursing Officer and Chief Operating Officer at Dignity Health Saint Francis Memorial Hospital and Dignity Health St. Mary’s Medical Center in San Francisco. “These are valid concerns, but I’ve seen firsthand how COVID-19 has ravaged my community and this vaccine provides some hope in stopping the virus.”
View this video to learn more about why Kelly chose to receive the vaccine.
Ron Yolo, RN, VP, Chief Nursing Officer at Dignity Health Glendale Memorial Hospital and Health Center, shares similar sentiments. As a nurse leader within CommonSpirit Health’s Southwest division, he frequently encounters people who are reluctant to take the vaccine.
Ron Yolo, RN, VP, Chief Nursing Officer, Dignity Health Glendale Memorial Hospital and Health Center
“In my (Filipino) community, there is great hesitancy to take the vaccine due to the Dengue vaccines that were administered in the Philippines,” Yolo says. “You can’t argue with anyone because the problems resulting from those vaccines are real and documented. But it’s troubling to see so many Filipinos — particularly nurses — who are hesitant to take this [COVID-19] vaccine.”
View this video to learn more about why Yolo encourages the Filipino community and his colleagues to get vaccinated.
Pablo Bravo, System Vice President, Community Health, and Brisa Hernandez, PhD, System Director, Population Health Engagement and Partnerships, also cite immigration fears as potential barriers to Hispanic individuals declining the COVID-19 vaccine.
Pablo Bravo, System Vice President, Community Health, CommonSpirit Health
“People are afraid that if they are undocumented, they won’t have the option to vaccinate. Others fear that if they do pursue the vaccine, they’ll risk being reported or worse,” Bravo says.
While Kelly, Yolo, Bravo and Hernandez are personally aware of issues that hinder some communities of color from wanting to take the new COVID-19 vaccines, they all believe that health care ambassadorship is key to engaging these populations. Ambassadorship, or the act of advocating for a specific cause like COVID-19 vaccines, is key to “meeting people where they are” and helping them consider a new approach, Hernandez says. And as CommonSpirit employees, we all are uniquely qualified to be health care ambassadors, particularly when it comes to COVID-19 vaccine awareness.
Brisa Hernandez, PhD, System Director,
Population Health Engagement and Partnerships, CommonSpirit Health
“As health care ambassadors, we shouldn’t feel like we’re on a mission to pressure anyone to take the COVID-19 vaccines,” Hernandez says. “Instead, our goals should be to listen empathetically, share our experiences and equip people with factual information, so they can make informed decisions that are best for them and their families. This ambassador approach is effective for most everyone and can open the door to meaningful conversations with communities of color.”
Acknowledging History While Addressing Breakthroughs
For Kelly and Yolo, sharing their personal reasons for taking the COVID-19 vaccine – as well as their detailed understanding of clinical trials – has made them effective ambassadors.
Yolo spent the majority of his career as a clinical research nurse and says he has firsthand knowledge of the extensive rigor required to complete a clinical trial, including the requirement to remove bias from studies. Kelly has extensive experience with clinical trials and says that historical tragedies like the Tuskegee Experiment have led to the creation of more stringent, ethical criteria for biomedical research involving human subjects.
Francis Mercado, MD, Ambulatory Associate Chief Medical Officer,
Francis Mercado, MD, Ambulatory Associate Chief Medical Officer at CHI Franciscan, also shared that thoroughly reviewing the COVID-19 clinical trial data gave him confidence in personally taking the vaccine and administering it to patients.
View this video to learn more about why Dr. Mercado chose to receive the vaccine.
“These vaccines have been tested on thousands of patients and have gone through all three phases of the standard clinical trials. They (the vaccines) have also been received by tens of thousands of patients even before they were released for emergency use,” says Dr. Mercado, who is of Filipino descent. “Many people feel hesitant to take the vaccines because they feel they were rushed, but messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines have been under development for more than ten years. Because of the pandemic, unprecedented levels of funding have made it possible to quickly bring them to the public.”
The perception of rushing a vaccine to market — combined with Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations that Blacks, Hispanics and other communities of color be prioritized to take the vaccine — can bring suspicion. According to the CDC, these communities of color are recommended for early vaccination because they have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and have higher complication and death rates from the virus.
“Individuals within communities of color might not be aware of this rationale and limited (COVID-19 vaccine) clinical trial data for communities of color also brings further distrust,” says Kelly. “Clinical trials are comprised of voluntary participants who take part in the study of new vaccines and treatments. If few people of color participate in the trial, there will be little data about how the vaccine or treatment impacts certain ethnicities. But given the history of institutional racism and misdeeds in the medical community, it’s understandable why communities of color might be reluctant to participate in clinical trials.”
While effective ambassadorship does require knowledge, it ultimately relies on a personal commitment to demonstrate caring and humankindness towards others.
“As CommonSpirit employees, each of us are already health care ambassadors in a sense because we have much greater exposure to the medical community and facts about the vaccine,” Hernandez says. “By having thoughtful conversations with our families and friends, we have great opportunities to positively influence our communities beyond what they see in the news.”
“We need to increase the awareness that a COVID-19 infection can be really horrible and life altering. Not everyone survives getting it and some people get sick for a very long time,” he says. “These vaccines do work, so it’s important that we all get protected and receive the immunity that these vaccines offer. It could save your life and the lives of your family members and co-workers.”
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