Reaching Out

The Markkula Center for Applied Ethics gets out the word about vaccinating hard-to-reach communities.

2 Hours. 10 People. 5 Shots. That’s what goes into opening a vial of COVID-19 vaccine. This equation played out before Markkula Center for Applied Ethics staffers, as they learned why some folks aren’t vaccinated. What they found is vaccine resistance isn’t always resistance. Sometimes it’s life—a hungry kid in the backseat, an appointment—getting between people and health care.

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Ubiquitous San Francisco street artist fnnch, known for his honey bears, joined a Marrkula Center for Applied Ethics webinar on reaching through murals those not-yet-vaccinated. It is one of many unconventional approaches the center’s vaccine education program explores. Photo courtesy finch.

It started at a food distribution event hosted by Catholic Charities that doubled as a COVID-19 vaccination clinic. Cars lined up for food. People with vaccination appointments arrived. But, soon, it was clear there were not enough patients.

To open a vial of the vaccine, health officials needed to know they could use the whole thing. They needed more people to roll up their sleeves.

Staff with the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics were on hand, collaborating with Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County on a project funded by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation to improve the COVID-19 vaccination rate in disenfranchised and vulnerable communities. They saw first-hand what medical professionals face.

As they helped recruit more patients—knocking on the windows of cars whose drivers queued up for food assistance—they also saw the obstacles their campaign would address.

“It took two hours and 10 people to give those five shots out,” says Meghan Shoven, senior director of external relations for the center.

Among the nos: essential workers who couldn’t get time off, those unsure of the vaccines’ safety, parents with tired kids in the backseat. Before they could be inoculated, some of the patients with appointments had left to return to work or pick up their kids. The struggle to get shots in arms was very real.

Ethics Center staffers returned to their offices to start planning.

“We saw the volunteers on the ground were struggling and knew we needed to give our message in a culturally contextual way,” says Joel Dibble, the center’s senior director of news and media relations.

The vulnerable population the project hopes to reach includes many marginalized by the widening economic gap and who face challenges accessing the COVID-19 vaccine. They are some of the hardest to reach.

The project includes a multi-language educational forum to address vaccine hesitancy.

A series of webinars highlighted ways officials could use community experts like faith leaders, education leaders, and even street artists to reach underserved communities.

As of fall 2021, with cases again surging, the work remains vital.

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