Partnerships in the Black community during COVID-19 can help address other health disparities: A video story

By Leslie Daniels, Public Health – Seattle and King County

Partnerships with community-based organizations are a crucial pillar of our COVID-19 response and efforts to support equitable vaccine access. Responding to the disproportionate impacts of the pandemic, hundreds of organizations throughout our county have stepped up to meet our community’s needs. One of the critical organizations doing this work is the African American Reach & Teach Health Ministry (AARTH).

We interviewed AARTH staff and their partner organizations to hear about the ways systemic racism had an impact on vaccination efforts in the Black community and the approaches they took to reach the community. The partnership between AARTH and many other organizations resulted in more than 8000 community members getting vaccinated, many within the Black community.

As shared in the video, when the COVID-19 vaccines were introduced, AARTH began noticing low engagement from its African American members. Curious about why, AARTH’s Lead Program Coordinator began surveying its members and learned that fear of getting the vaccine was a huge factor. 

“We saw a lot of fear mongering happening. But it wasn’t just due to things being pulled out of the air. These were real life experiences that people have, or that their grandparents or even their parents may have had,” says AARTH’s Lead Program Coordinator.

In addition to the distrust in the vaccine being a significant barrier, Pastor Leslie Braxton of New Beginnings Christian Fellowship in Kent was growing frustrated with the distance many of his members would have to travel to a vaccination site. We talked with Pastor Braxton about why he decided to make his church a vaccination distribution site.

“When the vaccination became available you would think the sickest would be the first in line. But racism is about the structuring [of] a disparity. We were in the back of the line, though we had the greatest need. And that’s when I asked our staff people, talk to whomever, I want to be a distribution site so that I can get our people to the front of the line.”

Building partnerships

Even after the vaccine location was established at the church, that was just the first step. Pastor Braxton realized that they would benefit from partnering with AARTH to help get people to the church for the vaccine and to address the psychological impact from the harms brought upon Black communities by years of unethical practices by medical professionals.

In addition to vaccine, a critical strategy was to partner with AARTH to help bring supports from Public Health to address critical social and economic needs from the pandemic. AARTH also had several other connections with organizations that were able to bring educational workshops and other health education that was needed in the community. Partners in this effort included Providence Medical, Harborview, UW Medicine, Mary Mahoney Foundation of Black Nurses, Emergency Feeding Program, Northwest Harvest, and several community volunteers. With these partnerships established, both churches and organizations are now well connected and addressing health needs in the community far beyond vaccine distribution.

This is the second post in an Equity and Vaccination blog series highlighting the work done to more equitably serve all communities across King County. Learn more about these efforts:

Equity in Vaccination is a Community Effort – PUBLIC HEALTH INSIDER

Navigators bring the personal touch to the COVID-19 response  – PUBLIC HEALTH INSIDER

Originally published 9/21/22