As COVID-19 continues to impact people's health and everyday lives, the Worcester Division of Public Health (WDPH) and its partners are strengthening community education and engagement to improve knowledge and understanding of vaccines. Churches are one type of community group that WDPH is working with to address vaccine hesitancy and provide a social environment that encourages participation and engagement with public health. The goal is to increase vaccine acceptance while also equipping community members to encourage their families and friends to get vaccinated by sharing accurate information.
WDPH facilitates sit-down conversations between church communities and health professionals to answer questions and address concerns about vaccines, followed by an on-site clinic. This forum provides attendees accurate and credible vaccine information along with easy access for community members to get their next dose. Initial events centered on vaccination will lay the groundwork for a longer-term collaboration around the community's other priority health needs. The initiative is part of the WDPH's REACH grant program to address inequity in health accessibility.
2022 started on a great note with a community vaccine discussion and clinic at Good Shepherd Methodist Ghana Church on Sunday, January 23.
WDPH Vaccine Program Prevention Specialist Irene Nyanuba and Dr. Idris Dahod led a conversation with over 100 church attendees, with many more listening via live church service broadcast. Immediately following the service, 30 congregants and local community members lined up at an on-site vaccine clinic staffed by the Worcester Department of Health & Human Services mobile vaccine team and Health Ambassadors from the Latino Education Institute. Information shared that day has since spread by word of mouth, and at least one person who would not have otherwise gotten the vaccine changed his mind after being encouraged to do so by a church member who participated in the conversation. WDPH is encouraged that these community engagement events will go a long way to help more people get vaccinated and bolster the City's vaccine equity efforts by increasing access and spreading credible vaccine information beyond the community conversation.
If you are interested in having a vaccine conversation and clinic at your church or community group, please Fill Out This Form, and a WDPH representative will reach out to that organization.
You can also contact WDPH Vaccine Program Prevention Specialist Irene Nyanuba at firstname.lastname@example.org or 774-366-6040 for more information, or for materials to help spread the word.
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Public health - and the health sector more broadly - relies on community engagement to ensure effective and continuous health education coupled with social support for healthy behavior change and adaptation.
Unfortunately, program evaluations consistently cite inadequate community engagement as a weakness of health intervention implementation. Preexisting disparities across social determinants of health, such as low income and access to internet and transportation, limit public involvement in health interventions.
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated these disparities and has posed an additional challenge to public engagement by preventing in-person community group gatherings, which are normally one of the most effective means of connecting with people. It is therefore crucial that the few groups that continue to meet be encouraged to get involved in the fight against COVID-19.
Churches are one of the few places where people consistently continue to congregate and socialize. They are a place where people make time to sit, listen and discuss issues of importance. Churches are an integral part of community members lives and provide a strong social influence for health intervention acceptance.
Furthermore, "health" means many things to different individuals and groups. The World Health Organization recognizes this, so its Definition of Health reflects the importance of individual experiences. Effective health promotion aims to help people increase control over their own health with accurate information, supportive environments and skills to make the best health decision in different circumstances.
Consequently, health education in the church setting provides knowledge of scientific facts tailored to fit the shared experience of the community. Attendees are influenced by the overall attitude of their community toward the health intervention and how individual choices impact others.
An assessment of vaccine information among the Worcester community conducted between October 1, 2021 and January 5, 2022 found that the majority of respondents learn about vaccine clinics through word of mouth, with 83% of those respondents hearing from relatives and friends.
Therefore, it is essential that community members be equipped with accurate information to pass on and encourage their relatives and friends who may be hesitant to accept the vaccine, and churches provide an ideal forum to make that possible.
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