Weill Cornell Medicine launches ambitious community vaccination and education efforts

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With the increased availability of vaccines in New York City and across the country, attention is turning more and more to those who are reluctant to receive it. Between 70 and 90 percent of the population must be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity and bring the pandemic under control, according to public health experts. Still, 14% of Americans say they definitely won’t get a vaccine and 13% want to wait and see how they work or only get one when needed, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) survey in July. .

Much attention has been drawn to the hesitations of black and Hispanic populations, in part because of their feelings of mistrust of the health care system. So, diversity leaders at Weill Cornell Medicine have launched ambitious immunization and education efforts in the community, with the goal of improving adoption and helping those who are hesitant to overcome their concerns. The July KFF poll showed that 16% of Hispanic adults wanted to “wait and see” before getting vaccinated, compared to 11% of black adults and 8% of white adults. The survey also found that resistance to vaccination is associated with young age, lower education, lack of insurance coverage and political affiliation.

Health professionals who work with and belong to black and brown communities say the emphasis should be as much on ease of access to the vaccine as on reluctance. While anyone aged 12 and over is now eligible in the United States, securing an appointment may require internet proficiency, as well as time off and travel to a site.

In January, NewYork-Presbyterian opened a vaccination site at the Fort Washington Armory in Upper Manhattan, prioritizing appointments for eligible residents of Washington Heights, Inwood, Harlem and the South Bronx. Additionally, using information provided by Cornell Cooperative Extension-NYC, the Weill Cornell Medicine Clinical and Translational Science Center (CTSC) worked with the Community Healthcare Network of federally approved health centers to administer, in late May, more of 8,600 doses of vaccine. The effort, led by Jeff Zhu of CTSC, was carried out at sites occupied by Weill Cornell medical students in churches and nonprofit spaces in Manhattan, the Bronx and Queens. And in April, future doctors at Weill Cornell Medicine teamed up with nursing students at Hunter College to run clinics in churches in Jamaica, eastern New York and Harlem, with the goal of vaccinating 100 000 people by September.

Dr Julianne Imperato-McGinley, director of CTSC and professor of medicine, says it’s important to make immunization available in people’s own communities, especially in “spaces of trust” like places of worship or an organization. of area. The CTSC had previously worked with a predominantly black church on a free screening program called Heart to Heart; his pastor reached out to the center and had himself vaccinated in front of his congregation.

The point on trust is essential. That’s why we do this with faith communities, where the community knows the people who are running the event. And it works, they get vaccinated. “

Dr Imperato-McGinley, attending physician at NewYork-Presbyterian / Weill Cornell Medical Center

Throughout the vaccine rollout, special attention was also paid to the health system’s mistreatment of communities of color, particularly the infamous Tuskegee experiment, in which researchers denied treatment to blacks with the disease. of syphilis so that they can study the course of the disease. But it’s not all history: COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on people of color, some of whom remain underserved by the health care system. For this reason, experts say, questions about why vaccines – which typically take years to develop – might be produced so quickly, or whether they might cause future side effects, should be viewed as a matter of course. -representation rather than hesitation.

To help healthcare professionals address these concerns, Weill Cornell Medicine in March trained “vaccine ambassadors” to serve as credible and trusted sources of information. “It’s not about convincing people,” says Dr Susana Morales, associate professor of clinical medicine and director of the Diversity Center of Excellence at the Cornell Center for Health Equity and associate attending physician at NewYork-Presbyterian / Weill Cornell Medical Center, which led the training. “It’s about providing information that is sorely lacking; it’s about empowerment and access.” During the training, supported in part by a donation of $ 200,000 from the law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, the panelists presented the conversations as filling a “knowledge gap” and advised to approach the issues in a way. receptive and empathetic. “I tell patients, ‘I promise you I’ve done some research to decide if I can recommend COVID vaccines to you – and if I’m going to accept the vaccine myself,” “said Dr Morales, who shares with them that she was vaccinated.

Responding to concerns about the speed of vaccine development, Dr. Morales describes how clinical trials have been able to recruit thousands of diverse volunteers and produce results quickly due to the scale of the virus. Ambassadors answer questions about side effects noting that study participants continue to be monitored for serious side effects, which investigators should report, and which drugmakers and other study sponsors should disclose . They also highlight the long-term side effects of COVID-19 infection, such as neurological damage, which the vaccine protects against.

To patients from populations that were not included in vaccine studies, Ambassadors can share the results of the latest research. For example, none of the currently approved vaccines have shown negative effects on fertility or caused pregnancy abnormalities in animal studies, and the initial data on vaccinated pregnant women are very encouraging, says panelist Dr Kevin Holcomb, associate dean of admissions and clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Weill Cornell Medicine and an attending obstetrician-gynecologist at NewYork-Presbyterian / Weill Cornell Medical Center. Dr Holcomb also told people about historical comparisons, if any. For example, he learned that some have the false impression that in Tuskegee’s study, researchers infected participants with syphilis, when in fact they denied them penicillin to treat the disease. Said Dr Holcomb: “What happened in Tuskegee is what we could do without using this vaccine.”


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