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In conversation about COVID-19: Navigators help dispel misinformation and build acceptance for vaccine

Aug 13, 2021

The Cancer Justice Network is working to get reliable information about the COVID-19 vaccine to some of the most under-resourced groups in our community—people who are homeless, living in public housing or experiencing hunger. And they're finding that the need is great.

"Every time we go out, we hear rumors and conspiracies about the vaccine," said Steve Sunderland, the network's Director. "But people have no one to talk to about the science. We're trying to provide that."

The Cancer Justice Network works to help people with low income and minorities get early and timely screening and treatment for cancer. Its team of navigators and a physician has been holding vaccine outreach events at homeless shelters, senior centers, churches and public housing complexes in Cincinnati and Hamilton County at least twice a week since early June. The team provides education and information about the vaccine and free food. Local public health nurses are on hand to administer the shots to those who are interested.

The project builds off the network's seven years of experience using navigators to connect people with cancer to health care and other resources. Partners include God's Favor Mobile Meals, Talbert House food truck and the Cincinnati Health Department.   

Interact for Health funded the project via its COVID-19 Vaccine Outreach. The foundation committed more than $500,000 to 21 vaccine projects in the region.

"It's amazing how resistant people are to receiving the vaccine," Sunderland said. "People are frightened about the virus and are willing to talk about their concerns, but it's still difficult to persuade them to get the shot with just one conversation."

Sunderland said that his team has had to redefine success for their events. Going into the project, they expected it would take one visit to provide education and give vaccines. However, they're finding that participants often need two or three conversations before they're ready to roll up their sleeve for the shot.

Sunderland also noted two other factors that seem to lead to greater uptake of the vaccine: having providers who look like the population they're serving, and having one organization provide education and another provide the vaccine.

In addition to Interact for Health's funding, the CDC Foundation plans to support the Cancer Justice Network navigators project. A formal announcement will be made soon.

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