AFAHO launched its first vaccine outreach efforts in June 2021, mobilizing our trained cohort of Cultural Health Navigators to go into the communities and provide accurate information and resources, discuss the root causes of vaccine hesitancy, and lead by example by sharing their own vaccination stories with the community. We established six WhatsApp channels in the six most common languages spoken by ACIRs in our geographic area (French, Swahili, Haitian Creole, Mandingo, Sudanese Arabic and English) to ensure that people received accurate and relevant information about the vaccine in the language they are most comfortable with and launched direct outreach through phonebanks and street outreach in communities with high numbers of African and Caribbean immigrants – West, Southwest, Point Breeze and Northeast Philadelphia neighborhoods as well as areas of Delaware County. Our teams provide information at community gathering spaces, including community events, churches and mosques, businesses, braiding shops, and taxi driver hubs.
We quickly discovered that, rather than a fundamental refusal to get vaccines, the vaccine hesitancy in the ACIR community we work with is largely driven by a lack of culturally and linguistically appropriate resources and a need for information and reassurances that come directly from the people that they trust within their own community. Recognizing that trust was a big barrier for many, we established vaccine clinics in our own offices, so that people could come to a place where they felt comfortable, could ask questions in their native language, and feel supported by their own community. Since launching the clinics in September of 2021, we have vaccinated nearly 1,000 people in our office and at community locations. It is this same approach we will utilize for the proposed “Know Your Status” COVID-19 testing program which will include peer-to-peer outreach; social media outreach utilizing our language-specific WhatsApp groups which combined now have nearly 700 users; and community collaborations where established partners including African and Caribbean churches, mosques, organizations and community groups will co-host COVID-19 awareness and testing events. Additionally, AFAHO serves many undocumented individuals who hesitate to access health services like COVID-19 testing at other locations due to immigration related fears. AFAHO offers a safe space where they trust that services offered by us won’t lead to problems for them, so community members who might have hesitated to seek the test elsewhere or did not know where to get a test will now be able to.