VALUE (Vaccine Acceptance & Access Live in Unity, Engagement, and Education) Baltimore Project
In Baltimore City, COVID-19 has devastated certain communities, infecting more than 50,000 people and causing 1,200 documented deaths. The impact disproportionately affects the physical and mental health, and livelihood of people in some populations in the city. Despite the availability of multiple vaccines with demonstrated effectiveness against the disease’s worst outcomes, nearly half of the city’s population remains unvaccinated and more susceptible to the effects of COVID-19. Reasons are multiple and include lack of access to clinics, misinformation, lack of awareness, and distrust of the vaccine and the health system.
The VALUE (Vaccine Access & Acceptance Lives in Unity, Engagement, and Education) Baltimore COVAX Education Project is a partnership with the Baltimore City Health Department (BCHD), the International Vaccine Access Center (IVAC), Morgan State University (MSU), and the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). The project aims to improve COVID-19 vaccine access, acceptance, and uptake in communities focused on families, youth, older adults and people living with disabilities and underlying conditions within Baltimore City, Maryland by engaging nearly 100 VALUE peer ambassadors (VPAs). The VPAs co-create and implement strategies that address the needs of communities with the lowest vaccination coverage, and build trust in vaccines and the health system. As respected members of the community, the VPAs have the ability to connect with their community and engage in conversations to build trust, educate, and improve access to COVID-19 vaccines. The VALUE communities include older adults, Latinx, people experiencing homelessness, orthodox Jewish, young men, pregnant and lactating women, immigrants, people with disabilities, and youth. Additionally, VALUE works with faith-leaders and community-based organizations to reach those not vaccinated, or have questions ranging from how to access the vaccine to uncertainty about their eligibility or side effects. Ambassadors attend weekly trainings on COVID-19 vaccination, the social determinants of health, communication styles and building trust and provide regular feedback on the needs of the community to support high vaccination rates and improved trust in all of Baltimore’s neighborhoods.
The project follows a community-based approach that:
- Builds on listening and co-creation exercises to develop strategies;
- Trains ambassadors to understand the science of both vaccination and behavioral models which underpin vaccine decisions;
- Identifies and hires ambassadors to engage in conversations in the community about the value of vaccination;
- And builds trust.
VPAs continue to receive training on a regular basis and provide feedback on the connections they make in the community to refine VALUE’s messaging and approach.
With a comprehensive effort to ensure access to vaccination and reach out to the communities, Baltimore vaccinated seventy three percent of Baltimore residents 12 years of age and older with their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and sixty three percent fully vaccinated. Some communities have very low vaccination rates, however, including youth. VALUE’s VPA community outreach is ongoing in areas with the lowest coverage, and vaccination rates have consequently increased in these areas. While it is too early to measure changes in levels of community trust in vaccines, vaccination rates are still climbing and anecdotal evidence suggests an impact by the ambassadors in the city. Additionally, community engagement increased by community organizations and faith leaders in the community.