The COVID-19 pandemic brought light to many racial and social injustices in the health care system of this country — injustices that have existed for many years and generations. At its onset, we saw people of color with disproportionately higher infection rates compared with whites, and conversely, we saw the disproportionately lower vaccination rates once vaccines were accessible to those communities.
According to a report published by the Washington State Department of Health, as of April 23, 2021, 58% of non-Hispanic whites in King County had completed receiving the vaccine, but only 4% of non-Hispanic Blacks — highlighting how underrepresented the Black community was in the initial rollout of the vaccines. This trend was seen in most other counties in Washington state, as well. Many factors contribute to the inequities seen within communities of color, and there are commonalities in these inequities with those seen with other medical conditions where African Americans are of greatest risk. These social determinants of health include education, communities we live in, access to health care and other resources, and income/economic stability. These are greatly influenced by discrimination in our society that can make it difficult for people of color to understand and trust interventions that are available to prevent and treat serious health risks, including the COVID-19 virus.
Mary Mahoney Professional Nurses Organization (MMPNO) was established in 1949 to provide community services and education to student nurses. The history of the organization surrounds Mary Mahoney, who was the first Black professional nurse in the United States. She, like Florence Nightingale, sought to improve and enrich the health of communities served. Her legacy is celebrated today through MMPNO. The activities of the organization include, but are not limited to, community outreach in underserved areas, scholarships to nursing students of African heritage and leadership mentoring for nursing students.
The mission of the organization to support the community was highlighted during the pandemic when there were consistent messages in all media outlets that described the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities of color and vaccine hesitancy among Black communities. We understood the history of the mistrust; however, we also understood the significance of educating our community to dispel the myths that were circulating within the community.
Members of MMPNO participated in panel discussions and listening sessions, and we collaborated with other community organizations to provide teaching materials for adults and children. A major focus was to partner with youth to work with other youth in the community to dispel the myths.
In addition to this education, we partnered with New Beginnings Baptist Church, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, The Center for Multicultural Health, Dubai Primary Care and other groups to provide vaccines. It was critical for us to be present to administer vaccines or as observers, so that members who were present could ask questions and could help allay fears regarding receiving the vaccines. Additionally, vaccines were administered to more than 4,000 community members at multiple sites and at various times, which were accessible to the community. The vaccine pop-up clinics afforded us a fantastic opportunity to have our organization’s students participate, as well, where they were able to see community services in action. Several members were bilingual or multilingual, which positively impacted our ability to connect and build confidence with those seeking vaccines. We also were, at times, able to provide follow-up to ensure that individuals were getting the services they needed.
The pandemic further highlights the value of increasing the diversity of persons who look like the people they serve and impact the outcomes of care. The COVID-19 pandemic also highlighted our value for community partners; thus, MMPNO will continue to educate, provide service and do community outreach so that people can receive quality health care.
May 10, 2022