DLSPH Open: Vaccination Efforts at the Community-Level
Dear faculty members, staff and students,
With vaccination efforts picking up steam in Canada, I’d like to call your attention to the work of several DLSPH professors whose work embodies our School’s evolving understanding of both equity and precision in public health delivery. These are the culturally specific COVID vaccination clinics – vaccinations offered by and for Black and Indigenous people.
Asst. Prof. Onye Nnorom is a leader in the Black Health Vaccine Initiative, which runs clinics around the province staffed with Black physicians, nurses and other staff. At the same time, Asst. Prof. Akwatu Khenti works directly with Black communities in townhall meetings to address concerns particular to communities that have not been well served by health care or public health.
And Prof. Suzanne Stewart, working with community partners, is running pop-up vaccination clinics at U of T for Indigenous people.
These efforts would not be possible unless our faculty had cultivated longstanding relationships with communities – relationships in which the experts do more listening than talking.
Similar efforts are springing up around the province for other communities, such as people living with homelessness or a mental health diagnosis, that traditionally have reasons to be suspicious of public health efforts. Repairing broken trust takes time, and it takes a strong understanding of the communities in question to create the right partnerships. These can’t be developed overnight.
I’m struck by the way Prof. Stewart described the Indigenous vaccination clinic recently:
A lot of Indigenous people in the community that I’m aware of would not have come forward to receive their vaccine if it had not been administered by Indigenous people in an Indigenous environment. A lot of Indigenous people in Toronto rely on the relationships they have with Indigenous health professionals. If they know Dr. Janet Smylie, they will come. Or Dr. Suzanne Shush, or me. They know us as people who want things to happen for the community, not for University reasons or research reasons.”
Much has been said, most of it aspirational, about the need to deliver the right public health to the right communities at the right time. To me, these culturally appropriate vaccination efforts are an example of the public health future we hope to develop. They don’t work on a mass scale. But precision public health – and equity – demands that we invest in culturally appropriate delivery measures that build trust and credibility through an understanding of discrimination and how it influences people’s decisions. That we are racing to vaccinate ourselves against a whole new epidemic of variants is all the more reason to put thought and sensitivity into our delivery. Not less.
I’m heartened by the dedication of our faculty members who have moved quickly and worked hard to create such successful vaccination measures. Governments both in Canada and around the world have much to learn from them. Although each clinic may be small, taken together, they make a large impact. The journalist Laurie Garrett famously said, “public health is a trust.” Little by little, one relationship at a time, our faculty members are nurturing and growing trust in public health.
All my best,