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To address disparities, M Health Fairview focuses on COVID-19 vaccine access for underserved groups

Underserved communities in the Twin Cities have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. To help, M Health Fairview is organizing "pop-up" vaccination clinics and strengthening community partnerships.
Twin Cities resident Esperanza Perez waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccine during a two-day vaccination clinic held in St. Paul on Feb. 7 and 8. The event was organized by M Health Fairview’s Community Advancement team in partnership with St. Mary's Health Clinics.

At a recent COVID-19 vaccination clinic at St. Mary’s Health Clinics in St. Paul, Esperanza Perez described how she felt after her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine in one word: “Aliviada (relieved).”

Perez was one of more than 260 people to receive the vaccine on Feb. 7 and 8, as part of a joint effort between M Health Fairview and St. Mary’s focused on vaccinating Latinx residents ages 65 and older.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, people of color and those with disabilities have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. They face higher rates of illness, complications, and death. As vaccines roll out across Minnesota, early data suggests members of those groups who are currently eligible to receive the vaccine are at greater risk of not getting the vaccine as quickly as others. This is due to a variety of issues, such as lack of transportation, access to technology, and language barriers.

M Health Fairview is leading efforts to address these disparities by ensuring that minority communities and underserved populations have better access to the vaccine and helpful vaccine resources. Our comprehensive plan is grounded in community partnerships, broad vaccination initiatives, and a focus on M Health Fairview community clinics serving diverse populations.

For more information about COVID-19 vaccine availability, eligibility, and safety, please visit our COVID-19 Resource Hub.

A disproportionate impact

Though Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) Minnesotans make up 21 percent of the state’s population, they represent 28 percent of all COVID-19 cases, 31 percent of all hospitalizations, and 36 percent of intensive care unit (ICU) stays, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. Latinx Minnesotans are testing positive for COVID-19 at a rate three times higher than white Minnesotans, and Black Minnesotans are testing positive at twice the rate. When adjusted for age, Indigenous, Black and Latinx Minnesotans have the highest COVID-19 death rates.

While the Minnesota Department of Health doesn’t currently report vaccinations by race, national data suggests BIPOC Americans have significantly lower rates of vaccination. White Americans may be accessing vaccinations at two to three times the rate of Black Americans, according to information from 16 states that report racial breakouts.

“Those who are BIPOC are experiencing some of the greatest burdens of this pandemic,” said Nicole Beauvais, PA-C, vice president of quality for M Health Fairview. “We’re working diligently and creatively with community partners to address specific cultural needs, including language, healthcare access, and other social determinants of health to alleviate this disparity.”

The state is still in the early days of vaccination and demand for the COVID-19 vaccine far exceeds available supply. Early supplies were given to frontline health care workers who care for COVID-19 patients and are critical to the state’s pandemic response. As supply increases, elderly Minnesotans and some frontline workers such as teachers and emergency responders have been prioritized for vaccination.

Even within these priority groups, M Health Fairview is taking proactive steps to ensure underserved populations have access to vaccines. Through a multi-pronged approach, we are working to reach people in their communities, at neighborhood clinics, and at public health events taking place at multiple community-based settings in the weeks and months ahead.

“By partnering with community organizations, we are able to offer people the COVID-19 vaccine in their community with healthcare workers who speak their language,” said M Health Fairview’s Ingrid Johansen, RN. Johansen serves as manager of clinical care and outreach for Community Advancement, as well as the director of Minnesota Immunization Networking Initiative (MINI). “They receive direct outreach from a community worker or nurse, there’s no need to go online, all documentation is in their language, and they’re vaccinated in a trusted space.”

M Health Fairview Community Advancement already has strong relationships with local public health departments, including Ramsey County Public Health. Through these partnerships, we are providing staffing, coordination and outreach for mobile vaccination clinics at schools, public high rises, community centers, churches, and other locations.

This allows us to expand access to vaccination using our existing Minnesota Immunization Networking Initiative (MINI) vaccine clinic models.

Since 2006, M Health Fairview and our partners have given more than 100,000 free flu vaccines through the MINI clinic program, thanks to grants from the Eliminating Health Disparities Initiative of the Minnesota Department of Health’s Center for Health Equity. The successful model provides a framework for our COVID-19 efforts, enabling us to channel resources more effectively as we set up COVID-19 vaccination events at multiple community-based sites.

“Pop-up” vaccination clinics

We’re also ramping up efforts to vaccinate patients by using a “pop-up” model at M Health Fairview clinics that are located in and serve some of our most diverse communities. These include clinics on the East Side of St. Paul, North Side of St. Paul, Frogtown, the Seward Neighborhood of Minneapolis, and North Minneapolis.

We expect to deliver 150 to 250 COVID-19 vaccines at each pop-up event – many of which will take place after hours or on weekends to better accommodate working families. Vaccine-eligible patients at those clinics will be notified of upcoming events by clinic staff. These patients may also have additional barriers like limited access to technology or transportation, so care coordinators are contacting patients to schedule their appointments and arrange transportation to the vaccination site if needed.

The first of these events is scheduled for Feb. 20 in St. Paul at M Health Fairview Clinic – Bethesda, where staff are proactively engaging Hmong and Karen-speaking patients, scheduling appointments and arranging for on-site interpreting services.

The ongoing scale and frequency of these events depends on the number of vaccine doses available. As more supply arrives, we will continue to assess our efforts to reach underserved Minnesotans and identify additional ways to remove access barriers. We’re working closely with the Minnesota Department of Health to monitor vaccine availability and give vaccinations to our communities as quickly as possible.

If you have questions, reach out to your doctor or clinic, or visit our vaccination page for the latest updates.