The following is a Q&A session between Daily Journal community voices reporter Danny McArthur and Victor D. Sutton, Ph.D, MPPA, director of Office of Preventive Health and Health Equity for the Mississippi State Department of Health
Q: What were the initial barriers to vaccination for minority and rural populations?
A: The initial barriers to vaccination for underserved populations are general access issues. Many communities do not have local access to vaccinators, especially in rural areas of the state. This includes transportation and local providers having access to vaccines to distribute. Another issue is for minority communities having access or the ability to book appointments. Access to appropriate technology, broadband or even long wait times create barriers for communities already suffering from disparities to be able to access these services.
Q: What strategies did the Office of Preventive Health and Health Equity take to reduce those barriers?
A: The Office of Preventive Health and Health Equity assists with translation of information into multiple languages for our communities with limited English proficiency. We have also worked with community partners (faith-based, head start agencies, community-based organizations, etc) to assist individuals to book appointments and coordinate transportation to vaccination sites. We continue to look for opportunities to add vaccination access in the community. We have developed a Mobile Community Vaccination Initiative in partnership with community health centers, to bring vaccinators into the community to create access in communities that lack the resource of a vaccination provider. Finally, we have worked to increase capacity with local communities. One key initiative highlighting this is our partnership with our Historically Black Colleges and Universities that now serve as vaccination sites.
Q: What gains have you seen as a result?
A: We have seen a reduction in the gap in vaccination distribution along racial groups overall. We have increased our vaccine dosages in the African American communities statewide. This has been a team effort that consist of partners from around the state.
Q: What role did community partnerships play in addressing those barriers?
A: Community partners are truly important in the work that we do. They understand the pulse of the community and what barriers exist. Community partners are able to help coordinate efforts on the ground as we work to provide resources to address the needs of the community. They also serve as the key trusted voices that are able to share accurate information and identify members that are truly need of access to the vaccine.
These partners also serve as trusted community voices to reduce hesitancy by sharing factual information and dispelling myths.
Q: Who are your partnering with?
A: The Office of Preventive Health and Health Equity works with a number of partners. We have worked with faith-based leaders, the Mississippi Department of Human Services, community health centers, local city officials, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, HeadStart, Latin Business Alliance (LABA) Link, Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance, Immigrant Alliance for Justice and Equity, Mississippi Dental Society, housing authorities, UnitedHealthcare, Magnolia Health and more.
Q: Why are you looking for new partners?
A: Although we have worked with a number of different partners, we know that there is still a long way to go. We have only been able to work in a few pockets of the state, but we are looking to expand our reach and ensure that every Mississippian has the necessary access to services to address their needs. We want to continue to build partnerships to address any and all gaps that exist in communities in need.