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Story from the Field: Vaccinating at Public Gatherings to Reach At-Risk Communities

January 22, 2010

Historically, Minneapolis has had a large urban Native American population. This population group is reportedly at a high risk for serious complications from H1N1 influenza, but Minneapolis health officials noticed that they were being reached through their public vaccination clinics.

Some members of the Native American community in the city are resistant to receiving H1N1 influenza vaccine, or may have been unable to receive it because of transportation and access issues, according to Pam Blixt, Public Health Emergency Coordinator with the City of Minneapolis Department of Health and Family Support.  

Despite these setbacks, in January, the health department successfully arranged to have an H1N1 vaccination clinic at a Pow Wow celebration at the Minneapolis American Indian Center attended by about 300 people. The health department regularly contracts with the Native American Community Clinic and funded them to provide vaccinations at the event. Health staff well received at the site and 50 at-risk individuals received the H1N1 influenza vaccine.

“We plan to continue to use the ‘push’ strategy—to go where targeted groups will be gathering to deliver to vaccinations—as a more effective method than ‘pull’ at this point,” said Blixt.

Members of Minneapolis’ Native American community often turn to homeopathic or alternative remedies, and may have very little trust in government and traditional medicine. Communicating the importance of the H1N1 vaccine can be a very difficult task, in addition to making care and prevention accessible. And reaching the community is not something that can happen overnight, said Blixt, but takes years of laying groundwork.

For almost five years now, Minneapolis’ health department has had an American Indian advocate on staff who works within the community in various ways. With the H1N1 pandemic, liaisons within the community have helped to get the word out about the potential dangers of contracting influenza, as well as organizing events to administer vaccine.

“We have been working with the community for some time,” said Blixt. “When we have an emergency, we already have the relationships established and we already have the mechanisms in place. We get the key leaders to communicate [on our behalf] so they can pass the messages along.”

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