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Partner Spotlight: Alabama State Association of Cooperatives

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A volunteer holding a sign for vaccination

[Editor’s Note: Since July 2021 Alianza Nacional de Campesinas (Alianza), Migrant Clinicians Network (MCN), Rural Coalition (RC) and 20 organizational partners and members have mobilized 221 community health outreach workers across 20 states and Puerto Rico to encourage vaccination within Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) rural communities through a learning collaborative. Funded by an $8.1 million grant from the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA), the effort aims to raise vaccination rates among immigrant and migrant farmworkers, and rural communities of color through reinforcing COVID-19 information, addressing vaccine hesitancy and accessibility, and assisting in countering misinformation and disinformation.]

In rural Alabama, the struggle to get people vaccinated can be laborious work. “The people will tell us that ‘they’re waiting on God, it causes sterilization in male and females… it’s a hoax and not for real, and they’re trying to keep track of us with microchips in the vaccine,’” noted Lucy Ibemere, DHA, as she presented the difficulties faced by the Alabama State Association of Cooperatives (ASAC) to our learning collaborative.  ASAC is a group of 12 organizations, including agricultural cooperatives, credit unions, handicraft productions cooperatives, and housing and land acquisition and management organizations.

ASAC has been working on vaccination efforts, gearing their efforts towards spreading positive messages with evidence-based information, as well making vaccines as readily available as soon as possible by aiding people in finding clinics and rides to get there when needed. For those who believe misinformation or have been told by trusted leaders in their community not to get vaccinated, the messaging can be difficult to spread, and many will refuse to believe that the vaccine is safe, effective, and free for all.

Clinician speaks with person in car

“We have had a very hard time convincing these groups to take vaccination… An elderly person in a congregation caught the virus and died, her daughter died, and still the whole church will not take the vaccination,” Dr. Ibemere said.

Interacting with whole congregations, even in the wake of tragedy, has been difficult if the members of the congregation do not trust the vaccine, but ASAC has found other effective ways to talk to those who may be hesitant. “We really are taking our message to each individual and trying to convince them.”

“If I go to a church and the minister has said ‘do not take the vaccination because it is not of God,’ then the congregation will not take that vaccination," Dr. Ibemere said.  “We go to the individuals and try to convince them to take the vaccination, and so far, we have had very good luck, but we are only getting one or two people in the family.”

Map of Alabama Counties

The ASAC has focused their efforts on a handful of western Alabama’s rural counties with vaccination rates around 40% of their eligible population. In those communities they have struggled with faith leaders expressing distrust towards the vaccine and putting an emphasis on faith as the solution to health problems. Though pastors that distrust the vaccine and stress “waiting on God” are a small group of people, they can have a tremendous impact on their congregations. Communicating one-on-one and directly answering concerns and questions individually has proved to be an effective way for ASAC to get people to get vaccinated, even if the person initially did not want to receive any form of inoculation against COVID-19.

Alabama State Association CHWs

Churches with leadership that are open to vaccination have offered great opportunities for ASAC. Members of ASAC attended a “Gospel Extravaganza” during this campaign and spoke to the crowd about the importance of vaccination and were allowed to hand out flyers with up-to-date information about vaccine eligibility and accessibility. The Gospel Extravaganza brought multiple gospel groups to a local church that was open for the public so they could enjoy religious music and find out more about vaccination efforts from ASAC.

In these rural areas, ASAC has also found success in going to high schools, football games, dirt biking events, and the church services that are receptive to their messaging, but there is still a long way to go when it comes to getting these vulnerable counties vaccinated. 

Each week MCN facilitates a bilingual Learning Collaborative that offers partners access to clinical staff, other experts, an extensive library of fully editable COVID-19 resources, evidence-based COVID-19 updates, and extensive communications and marketing technical assistance to support partner’s use and adaptation of resources to fit their community’s needs. Each organization shares learning collaborative content and activities with their frontline community health workers, who tirelessly promote COVID-19 vaccination in the counties, towns, and neighborhoods where they live. This blog series highlights best and promising practices used by grant partners across the country, which are shared at the learning collaboratives, creating a diverse learning environment.

This is supported by the Health Services and Resources Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of an award totaling $8,105,547 with 0% percentage financed with non-governmental sources. The content are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by HRSA, or the U.S. Government. For more information, please visit HRSA.gov.

 

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