Bring the vaccine to people — don’t wait for people to come to the vaccine.

Bring the vaccine to people. Don’t wait for people to come to the vaccine. To increase COVID-19 vaccination rates especially amongst marginalized communities that’s what we have to do. But how? Here are three lessons I learned while volunteering recently to vaccinate people in an immigrant community in my state’s poorest city, an area that was our COVID-19 epicenter.

Lesson 1: bring vaccination sites closer to home. A local organization organized the vaccination site. They got creative — repurposing their community center where cultural activities had been held to host vaccinators and vaccines. They brought vaccines out of clinics, and into their local community center — a place people already trusted, closer to their homes.

Lesson 2: vaccinators + outreach workers = dream team. The local organization partnered with clinics and hospitals to recruit seven of us doctors and nurses as volunteer vaccinators. But the outreach workers were heroes. In the days leading up to vaccination day, teams of residents — outreach workers — had walked the neighborhood to knock on their neighbors’ doors. They educated their neighbors about why, when and where they should get vaccinated. They scheduled their appointments. Outreach worked. In an area where vaccination rates had started to slow, door-to-door vaccine canvassing led to hundreds of people showing up on a Sunday to get their shots.

Lesson 3: vaccines may not be enough. Prior to the pandemic nearly all my patients were essential workers — cooks, construction workers, taxi drivers. During the pandemic most had lost their jobs. Many were struggling to put food on the table. That’s why along with masks, the outreach workers who visited them brought food aid and through the community organization helped them with job applications. In poor communities helping people get vaccinated may start with helping people feed their families.

I learned it is possible to reach the marginalized. It is possible to further increase vaccination rates. It is possible to bring the vaccine to people. States like mine are now investing in these solutions by giving grants to community-based organizations to do just that.

Refugee turned doctor. Pursuing a world where no patient is out of reach. Personal account.