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Addressing Vaccine Equity

vaccine infographic

The foundation of race and social justice is embedded in all aspects of Aging and Disability Services (ADS) work, both as a division of the Seattle Human Services Department and as the Area Agency on Aging for Seattle and King County. ADS is committed to carrying this focus in addressing vaccine equity.

In October 2021, ADS was contacted and invited to participate in Sprint to Accelerate Vaccination Equitably (the acronym is SAVE but the project is often called “Sprint”). We responded with enthusiasm.

What is the Sprint? It is 10-week improvement plan coordinated by the Center for Primary Care, Harvard Medical School, designed to increase COVID-19 immunization rates. Teams across the United States meet weekly to discuss partnerships with clients, staff, and the community and receive and share tools and templates for ongoing improvements in immunization outreach.

I was asked to convene the Washington State team. Our team set these goals: Promote health. Accelerate the safe and equitable administration of the COVID-19 vaccine for focused populations. We developed two projects: 1) Address vaccine hesitancy among vulnerable adult clients served by Jewish Family Service; and 2) Increase COVID-19 vaccinations among older adults in the broader Russian and Ukrainian speaking communities of King County.

We are consulting data and both English and Russian language materials developed by Public Health—Seattle & King County, the Washington State Department of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is extraordinary how much world language material is available due to the work of many agencies, and these resources inform our work.

languages chart

This Public Health—Seattle & King County graphic demonstrates a broad range of in-language COVID-19 resources.

The information and data from those sources that is most relevant to our work is available on the Resilient American Communities website—both the King County dashboard and the Russian Vaccine Resources in King County page. We will add to these as new content is identified. We also use Google map technologies to identify where people live.

Our team is learning a lot from the weekly SAVE meetings and at our weekly meetings, including how challenging it is to help people accurately weigh the risks and benefits of getting vaccinated. We know how important it is to listen for better understanding of vaccine hesitancy.

Trust is crucial. Older adults must trust the messenger, whether a Jewish Family Service staff member, a health care provider, a rabbi or other faith leader, or a friend. We found that trust is more important than the specific message, information flyer, or graphic image.

Beliefs about vaccinations differ. Cultural humility and historical trauma must be considered when doing outreach and marketing vaccinations in the community.

ADS is the first Area Agency on Aging (AAA) in the nation to participate in the Sprint. We hope that learnings from this project will inform future “sprints” and involve more AAAs across the country.

It is an honor and privilege to participate in this important work. We couldn’t do it without our amazing and dedicated team, which includes Cathy Knight, PhD, state director of the Washington Association of Area Agencies on Aging; James Firman, EdD, co-founder and chief innovation officer at BellAge and previously a long-time president and CEO of the National Council on Aging; Janice Taylor Booher, MS, who directs the UUJF Climate Justice Resilience Ministry, and is affiliated with the Florida Atlantic University’s Center for Environmental Studies’ Resilience Mapping Initiative, Resilient American Communities, and the Climate Action Coalition of South Florida; and Miri Kudinov, MPH-MHA, who manages Holocaust Survivor Services at Jewish Family Service in Seattle.

Mary Pat O’Leary, RN, MSN, Aging and Disability ServicesContributor Mary Pat O’Leary, RN., BSN, a senior planner at Aging and Disability Services, is the Washington State Sprint team facilitator.