EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Planned Parenthood, along with other reproductive health organizations, is leading the charge to vaccinate their patient population as well as rural populations, communities of color, and low-income populations.

  • Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho has set up mobile pop-up clinics to service and educate their community, providing almost 1,000 vaccinations over the course of two events to immigrant, farmworker, and warehouse worker populations.
  • Planned Parenthood in Tulsa, OK, has organized door-to-door canvassing and phone-banking, especially among low-income populations and communities to provide information and build trust.
  • Reproductive health providers, already trusted in the community with clients, play a key role in busting vaccine myths and providing evidence-based information so patients can get vaccinated and healthy enough to focus on their reproductive health.

Planned Parenthood and other reproductive health organizations have initiated COVID-19 vaccine outreach for their patients and communities.

In addition to encouraging staff and patients to take the vaccine, the organizations have taken a positive COVID-19 vaccine message to minority communities and others hit hard by the pandemic.

“We have had some very successful vaccination events,” says Paul Dillon, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho in Spokane, WA.

Planned Parenthood started setting up mobile pop-up clinics in 2020 in response to COVID-19. “We did a little bit of outreach in 2019 before the pandemic hit,” Dillon explains. “We reached out to farmworkers, but it wasn’t really until 2020 that we expanded the program to include more healthcare and brought our clinical staff to sites.”

With various grant funding, the organization helped meet a massive need. “There was nobody who was really going out there and doing this kind of work, travelling out to our farmworker sites and warehouses. This kind of outreach was a huge success,” Dillon says. “We started working with partners, including tribal health centers and local organizations. In March 2021, there were two events in which almost 1,000 people were vaccinated.”

Most of the Title X clinics in Arizona Family Health Partnership’s network are providing the vaccine, says Bré Thomas, MPA, chief executive officer.

The clinics also are trying to maintain protective actions like handwashing and social distancing. “They are staying current on what the CDC says, [which is] if you have staff that are not vaccinated, they need to wear a mask,” Thomas says.

In early June 2021, Planned Parenthood of Greater New York kicked off a major initiative to encourage COVID-19 vaccination across the United States.

“While we are turning the corner on the COVID-19 pandemic, we have to keep up the momentum to make sure everyone gets vaccinated,” Alexis McGill Johnson, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement about the vaccination drive.1

Planned Parenthood’s vaccination efforts include their Protect. Every. Body. campaign, which was launched in spring 2021 to build COVID-19 vaccination confidence among Black, Latino, and other communities of color.2

“We are on the ground, and folks turn to us for reliable, trusted information about their health,” says Monica Massamba, manager of Black Campaigns with Planned Parenthood Federation of America in Tulsa, OK. “We have an organization that is already a part of these communities. We have been going door to door, canvassing and making calls with folks, letting them know where their closest vaccination site is and getting them the information they need to make that decision.”

One advantage of family planning centers is they are well-known in their communities, especially among people who are at high risk of COVID-19 illness, including low-income populations and communities of color. This helps build trust, which has been essential to increasing the vaccination rate in the United States.

“Building this kind of trust is a key to success,” Dillon says. “We’re educating people about the vaccination and COVID-19, and also incorporating family planning.”

Planned Parenthood targeted Latino communities and immigrant populations in Greater Washington and North Idaho for outreach. The organization assembled a team to serve rural areas, starting with COVID-19 testing last year, says Lili Navarrete, director of public affairs and Raiz for Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho.

For example, the mobile clinic served about 120 people. Thirty-five percent tested positive for COVID-19. Most people served by the outreach were immigrants, farmworkers, and warehouse workers.

“We also, at that time, provided assistance with food, and all the food boxes were culturally appropriate food,” Navarrete says. “We also gave gift cards, sanitary products, and provided services that showed women how to take care of their bodies for reproductive health.”

“It was really important for our community to be out there and for this population to see someone who speaks their language and looks like them, establishing trust,” she explains. “I can speak their language and understand their background because I went through that when I immigrated from Mexico with my family and we had no healthcare.”

Navarrete’s family could not afford annual checkups or visits to clinics when they were ill.

“It was just unbelievable to see my dad struggle when we were sick. My mom did home remedies because we didn’t speak the language and didn’t have insurance,” Navarrete says.

A team of five to 10 people visits the sites, usually between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. “If we know that the workers or community members are working late, we will make our vaccine clinics from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.,” Navarrete says. “We always end up staying after hours because we have people who call in and say, ‘I am just getting off work, can we stop by and get the vaccine/test/food box?’ and we say that we will absolutely stay.”

This program will continue into the fall and incorporate flu shots as soon as those are available, she adds.

Vaccine hesitancy is an issue among many communities in the United States. This means healthcare providers must effectively educate patients and reach out to communities about the safety and science behind the COVID-19 vaccines.

“Providers are trusted in our community with our clients, so if the provider is able to tell the client that something is not actually true and bust the myth, it helps,” Thomas says. “They can also provide information on what the vaccine does to protect people from COVID-19 and from the Delta variant.”

Reproductive health providers are well-respected. When providers talk with clients about contraceptives, they also can help patients consider getting vaccinated against COVID-19, she says.

Vaccine hesitancy is real and a problem, but reproductive health providers can fill the gap and build trust through connecting with people in a way other providers cannot. “At Planned Parenthood, we do a lot to destigmatize different services, so we’re well-positioned to help build trust with the vaccine,” Dillon says. “We have a high rate of vaccination among our employees.”

Providing vaccination outreach and access among disadvantaged communities fits in well with the organization’s motto: “Care. No matter what.”

“We fundamentally believe that healthcare is a human right and has no borders,” Dillon says. “It doesn’t matter what your country of origin is or your citizenship status.”

Reproductive health providers should be culturally conscious of the population they serve. “They should educate themselves on the different cultures of patients who visit their offices,” Navarrete says. “Also, they need to be open to going out into the community and offering services that are not in the office because these hard-to-reach communities need assistance and healthcare more than ever.”

Planned Parenthood’s vaccine outreach included phone banking, in which staff would ask people if they had received their COVID-19 vaccination, Massamba says.

“If they have gotten vaccinated, we thank them and move on,” she explains. “If they haven’t been vaccinated, then we share a little bit of information about the vaccine and try to gauge their level of comfort with the vaccine. This determines how the conversation will go.”

If the person does not seem hesitant about taking the vaccine, the outreach worker provides information about the closest vaccine site. If the person is very hesitant, the worker will give more evidence-based information and support.

The organization launched a COVID-19 fellowship this summer to provide peer-to-peer communication on the vaccine, encouraging young people to get vaccinated.

“For Black and brown communities, we’ve been doing door-knocking and having events that open up a space to have authentic conversations about where folks stand with the vaccine,” Massamba explains.

For example, the organization held a virtual event in Michigan, called Real Docs and Real Talks. That event included a Black healthcare provider who shared accurate information about the COVID-19 vaccine and addressed some misinformation.

“This event was specifically targeted to Black communities in Michigan and was led by our Black organizer,” Massamba adds.

The campaign quickly launched with more than 120,000 phone calls, and canvassers knocking on more than 40,000 doors. “We are hopeful that this will be successful and we are going to be able to get our folks vaccinated,” she says.

Planned Parenthood also offers video content that promotes vaccination. One example is a new hero video that tells one person’s COVID-19 vaccine journey. Another one is titled “Every Second Counts.”3

The organization also produced Vax Facts, which is a series of animated videos that provide facts and dispel myths about the vaccine. They are available on Planned Parenthood’s Instagram and Twitter channels.4

“Our communities need to be safe and healthy to even be able to make a decision on whether or not they will be starting a family,” Massamba says. “They need resources to make that decision, which is what we want to provide. It was always a given for us to step in.”

REFERENCES

  1. Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood launches two million dollar COVID-19 vaccine campaign. April 8, 2021.
  2. Planned Parenthood Votes! South Atlantic. Protect. Every. Body.
  3. Planned Parenthood Video. Every Second Counts. May 26, 2021.
  4. Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood kicks off major push to help get people vaccinated against COVID-19. June 4, 2021.