Help Make Minority Communities Vaccine Ready for a More Equitable Future

April 22, 2021

April Is National Minority Health Month

Governor Phil Murphy and his Administration have a goal for 4.7 million New Jersey residents to be completely vaccinated against COVID-19 by June 30, 2021. As New Jersey continues to open eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines and make progress toward reaching its vaccination goals, the state is still struggling in the effort to vaccinate communities of color. Health experts and community leaders identified vaccine shortages, mistrust of medical establishments, limited internet access to find and register for appointments and jobs that do not allow for time to search appointment opportunities or to take time off to get the vaccines as barriers to receiving COVID-19 vaccines. To increase access to vaccines, New Jersey is partnering with community programs in 10 underserved areas disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

"The theme for National Minority Health Month this year is #VaccineReady, which is most fitting as the COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on communities of color. It is critically important to ensure access to COVID-19 vaccines and to provide education that aims to eliminate the mistrust of medical establishments that individuals may have. These actions are necessary to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, and to move towards a 'new normal'," said Debra L. Wentz, PhD, President and CEO of the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies, Inc. (NJAMHAA). "In order to ensure a more equitable future, we must provide education that considers past events and focuses on empowering minority communities in addressing health issues, and adapt culturally competent policies. These actions will establish trust which also builds bridges that close gaps and help communities move beyond inequities and disparities."

Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton, a member of NJAMHAA, is partnering with the Trenton Health Team and the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund to provide COVID-19 health education, contact tracing, testing and COVID-19 vaccine support to underserved and minority communities, including Black communities, Latino communities and documented and undocumented immigrants. Catholic Charities was awarded funding through the Central Jersey Family Health Consortium to help build a statewide, bilingual, multicultural healthcare workforce through training by the New Jersey Department of Health's Colette Lamothe-Galette Community Health Worker Institute; educating the communities it serves by working directly with vulnerable and hard-to-reach individuals; removing barriers and increasing access for marginalized groups.

"Our communities of color, having gone into the pandemic underserved, remain disproportionately impacted. Access to vaccine supply, crisis services and medical services through in-community and technology based means in a language and location of choice, are essential, and must be prioritized for our communities of color," said Susan Loughery, MBA, Associate Executive Director of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton and NJAMHAA Board Chair.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the health disparities that exist. Health disparity is defined by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion as a type of heath difference that is linked with economic, environmental and social disadvantages. For example, Black and Hispanic children are often diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at a later age compared to White children. The reasons for these disparities include a lack of access to health services due to geographical and economic limitations. Individuals might have to choose to work instead of accessing medical care or they do not have insurance and cannot afford treatment. Additionally, the stigma associated with mental illness and intellectual/developmental disabilities (I/DD) can result in individuals not seeking treatment.

In February of 2021, White New Jersey residents were more than three times likely to receive a COVID-19 vaccine compared to Black and Hispanic New Jersey residents, according to New Jersey's COVID-19 Information Hub. However, the vaccination rates in these communities are beginning to improve. This is in part because of programs such as the one at Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton which reduce barriers and increase access. In order for New Jersey to reach its vaccine goals and a new normal, health organizations must remain mindful of the barriers that minority communities face.

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