May 20, 2021

Removing barriers to vaccination in Oregon

Targeted outreach to Black and Latino populations in Portland delivered shots in arms and reduced health care disparities.

Saskia van der Wal, MD, clinical lead for Salud en Español, and members of the Salud program at the Kaiser Permanente Sunset Medical Office, made it convenient for Latino KP members to receive COVID-19 vaccinations in their own neighborhood.

Maria, who is Latina, desperately wanted to get vaccinated against COVID-19, but navigating the online appointment system was beyond her computer skills and English proficiency. And, as an immigrant, going to the mass vaccination site at the Oregon Convention Center made her uneasy.

Margaret is Black and had misgivings about the vaccine based on documented historical medical discrimination of Blacks and current community chatter. She has a computer and Wi-Fi but admits that getting time off work would be near impossible.

Maria and Margaret (not their real names, to protect their privacy) represent a large number of Kaiser Permanente members who are experiencing barriers to vaccination. For some, it’s access. For others, it’s fear and distrust.

Direct outreach and targeted clinics

To make the path to vaccination easier, Kaiser Permanente reached out to members of vulnerable populations and invited them to attend Saturday vaccine events at medical offices in their neighborhood. 

Two such culturally focused vaccine events for Latino Kaiser Permanente members were held recently at the Kaiser Permanente Rockwood and Sunset medical offices in Portland, Oregon. The Kaiser Permanente East Interstate Medical Office hosted an event for the Black community. Combined, more than a thousand members and their family members received vaccinations.

That’s particularly good news because “these populations are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 infections, compared to non-BIPOC populations,” said Saskia van der Wal, MD, a family medicine specialist for Kaiser Permanente in the Northwest. Oregon’s population is 13% Latino, yet it makes up 24.2% of COVID-19 cases. Similar trends are found in Black communities.

Closing care gaps and connecting to social services

Staff helped members close a number of important care gaps that likely would not have been addressed if not for the convenience of the vaccine clinic. For example, on one Saturday, there were 37 blood draws, which helps to detect diabetes and prediabetes; 30 blood pressure checks for hypertension; and 5 follow-up appointments scheduled for blood pressure. Staff sent 1 member to an urgent care center due to a blood pressure reading of 235/120. Seven people were scheduled for cervical cancer screenings, 5 for diabetic eye screenings, and 5 for mammograms. 

In addition, at 2 events, members were offered a questionnaire to determine if they were at-risk for unmet social needs. As a result, staff connected members to social services for support with housing, food, transportation, and other issues.

Each event was a “big win” that gained some ground on “reducing the wide health disparities that unfortunately exist,” said Dr. van der Wal. 

Across the country, people often rejoice when they get the jab. At the Latino events, a Cuban salsa band led the celebration as newly vaccinated members stopped to listen and shake their hips to the music. 

“The vaccine offers hope that we may be past the worst,” said Dr. van der Wal. “We need to immunize as many people as possible.”