COVID-19 Vaccine Navigators: Leveraging existing primary care infrastructure to increase access and reduce hesitancy among refugee and new immigrants
The COVID-19 Pandemic Response and Impact Grant (Co-RIG) Program – Phase II focuses on innovations and initiatives that prepare family physicians and their interprofessional teams to cope with challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic and its longer term impact.
This week’s highlighted project, COVID-19 Vaccine Navigators: Leveraging existing primary care infrastructure to increase access and reduce hesitancy among refugee and new immigrants, is led by Dr. Fariba Aghajafari and Dr. Annalee Coakley from the University of Calgary. Recipients of Co-RIG Phase I, Dr. Aghajafari and Dr. Coakley’s team support marginalized newcomer communities to address vaccine literacy, readiness, and uptake.
For Co-RIG Phase II, the project team is deploying Vaccine Navigators (VNs) across communities in Calgary. These culturally competent community outreach workers from various immigrant-serving community partners identify and support vulnerable refugees and new immigrants. The VN program leverages work and relationships created through the Co-RIG Phase I project.
The project’s scope has widened to include cross-sectoral partners such as Alberta Health Services (AHS), Mosaic Primary Care Network (PCN) and local community agencies such as CCIS, AIMGA, Okaki, and the Calgary East Zone Newcomer Collaborative. These partners support the team by providing safe spaces for clients. The project also has full support from Alberta Health Services and the University of Calgary. The goal of having a diverse panel of partners is to support marginalized newcomer communities, address vaccine literacy, and dissipate messaging emphasizing safety and confidence within communities that might not have access to all the information.
Onsite mobile clinics have been created in Calgary communities thanks to the dedication of Dr. Aghajafari and Dr. Coakley’s team and the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society. These clinics offer accessible care to patients and provide the administrative work required to create health profiles, Universal Life Identifiers, and ensure cultural safety for newcomers unfamiliar with the Alberta public health system.
Dr. Aghajafari said newcomers and refugees entering the country are often fully vaccinated for COVID-19 by the time they are processed. This presents a challenge as tracking down information regarding foreign vaccination processes or medical reactions to the vaccines can be difficult, if not impossible. This data provides information crucial to understanding and dispelling the fears surrounding COVID-19 and vaccines.
“We hope the efforts of this joint initiative focused on identifying the needs of newcomer communities during the pandemic, developing socio-cultural strategies to address these needs, and executing resources with available funds will provide equitable access to vaccine and reduce vaccine hesitancy in these marginalized communities.”
– Dr. Fariba Aghajafari