New Initiative Aims to Overcome Vaccine Hesitancy in Communities of Color

barber styles hair of man in chairThe Maryland Department of Health has announced a new initiative of their GoVAX campaign in partnership with Kaiser Permanente, building on the success of the existing  Good Health & Great Hair program to bolster ongoing COVID-19 vaccination efforts in Baltimore City and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. The partnership will promote vaccine confidence and equity in African American, Black and Hispanic communities by focusing education, training and outreach through local barber shops and hair salons.

As part of Maryland’s GoVAX initiative, Kaiser Permanente developed a multi-part training curriculum to help equip barber shop and hair salon owners with the education and information necessary to have conversations to boost vaccine confidence and in some cases, host vaccination clinics. The partnership officially launched on July 23 at the Hello Bonita salon in Baltimore with a kick-off event featuring community advocates and on-site vaccinations.

In a recent interview with the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, Texas State University associate professor Emily K. Brunson described the origins of vaccine hesitancy:

Hesitancy comes from many sources. Common concerns include how quickly the COVID vaccines were developed and if they are safe. Many people have adopted a “wait and see” attitude in response to these concerns. Others have technical questions including if they should be vaccinated if they’ve already had COVID, if the vaccines will be effective against different strains, and how we will know if they’re safe for children.

Of course, in some cases, these questions are accompanied by a mistrust of medicine, public health, and government more generally. In communities of color, we can trace this mistrust back to a history of neglect and exploitation at the hands of health care providers and government, as well as people’s recent and personal experiences with structural inequities in public health, medicine, and social services.

Because different types of hesitancy exist, it is important that any vaccine communication initiative is based on the concerns of particular communities and that they are sensitive to the underlying reasons for these concerns.

Research has shown that trusted community voices and more personal approaches like the Good Health & Great Hair program are one of the most effective ways to overcome vaccine hesitancy.

“Ensuring that all Marylanders have access to the COVID-19 vaccine is imperative to help our state continue to move forward,” said Deputy Director of MDH’s Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities Dr. Mark Martin. “By teaching trusted community partners vital vaccine communication related to vaccine hesitancy, we’re confident that we’ll be able to reduce COVID-related health disparities in communities of color.”