Building Trust and Saving Lives
by Keith Jones, iTHRIV Communications Coordinator
The muffled ring of a cellphone jingles up from the purse on the ground, Tina Nunez pauses our discussion and moves to answer it. Tina switches to Spanish and after a brief conversation, a family is scheduled to receive their COVID-19 vaccines.
“It’s all about building trust and making it easy for the community to get their shot” she explains. Tina is the Outreach Program Assistant at the Integrated Translational Health Research Institute of Virginia (iTHRIV), and her humble explanation understates the massive effort that she and her colleagues at the Latino Health Initiative and the Blue Ridge Health District have undertaken.
Over the course of the past several months, Tina along with support from UVA’s Latino Health Initiative and in collaboration with the Blue Ridge Health District, conducted an intense campaign to vaccinate Central Virginia’s LatinX population.
The task of vaccinating a community that has been historically underserved in healthcare is not easy. The outreach campaign sought not only to inform the community of the dangers of ignoring COVID-19, but also to combat pernicious rumors surrounding the vaccine. Some in the LatinX community feared the vaccines were not safe, while others were afraid the vaccination effort was a ploy to deport illegal migrants. Tina and her colleagues carefully planned messaging to address community concerns. The team deployed flyers, videos, and direct discussions. “We needed to meet the [LatinX] community where they were shopping, worshiping, and where they’re living.”
Barriers to vaccination are not only mental, but physical and for Charlottesville’s LatinX community, they are also acute. Clinic location, timing, and ease of scheduling all serve as potential blocks. To address these concerns, the team utilized pop-up vaccine sites in neighborhoods, churches, and community centers.
“In the early days of the vaccine, someone would need to schedule their appointment.” Knowing that scheduling was hard for some people, Tina personally handled the scheduling process. “The Charlottesville [LatinX] community needed to know, if you need a vaccine, you can call me.”
People responded. Tina received calls and texts at all hours of the day and night. If she couldn’t answer the phone right away, she called people back; Tina replied to texts and emails. During conversations she diligently recorded the data needed to schedule an appointment and then informed the caller of the time and location of the appropriate clinic. The team deftly handled questions, addressed concerns, and worked to ensure that the community felt confident when getting vaccinated.
Since February the team has conducted 26 vaccination events. By July, through the combined efforts of Tina Nunez, the Latino Health Initiative, and the Blue Ridge Health District, over 2,300 LatinX residents in Central Virginia had received full vaccinations. Through it all Tina remains modest, “it is because of iTHRIV’s funding of this position that I was able to accomplish this outreach and I am so grateful for all of our partners and volunteers.”