A 10-Point Guide for Schools to Promote Equitable COVID-19 Vaccination
After over a year of grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, the promise of vaccination and potential immunity has brought into focus a better future.
Despite the large-scale availability of vaccines, the U.S. has a long way to go to achieve herd immunity, which scientists say would involve having 70–85% of the population vaccinated.
Achieving these levels across different communities will be difficult. Some people are hesitant to get the shots because they are skeptical of the efficacy, risk, and even the ethics of vaccines. Others lack access to quality health information and care, which can hinder access. New coronavirus variants also present potential new threats. Then there are challenges with rollout: Vaccine supply now far exceeds demand, and communities must figure out how to make the vaccine accessible to all, and encourage people to get their shots.
Asaf Bitton, executive director of Ariadne Labs, describes this as “one of greatest public health campaigns we’ve undertaken in generations.” As the country embarks on this campaign, those leading the vaccine effort must take a nuanced approach to accommodate the needs and concerns of diverse communities—especially those who are hesitant“A lot of people can be moved with open acknowledgement and communication from people they trust and sources who are proximate,” said Bitton, a practicing primary care physician and assistant professor of medicine and health care policy at Harvard Medical School and Brigham & Women's Hospital. “That trust and proximity exists at schools.”
As Bitton suggested, public schools can play a critical role in supporting the vaccination effort by helping local communities understand and address concerns, and by supporting those who don’t have access to healthcare and information about the vaccines. This will be no easy task. Most schools are already struggling with reopening. Schools are directing maximum effort to ensure that every student receives high-quality education, while working to safeguard the health, safety, and well-being of students, families, teachers, and staff.
Still, school is part of daily life for many people in American communities. This connection gives school leaders an opportunity to address vaccine hesitancy and promote uptake by faculty, staff, students, and extended families—all of which could help the country reach herd immunity.
To do this effectively, every school effort must center equity. Schools should work to understand the myriad needs and concerns of people in their community, and should elevate trusted local voices who can support vaccine efforts with empathy and compassion. By prioritizing equitable and innovative approaches to embracing vaccination, schools can promote the health and well-being of everyone.
In collaboration with Brooklyn Laboratory Charter Schools, a public charter school in Brooklyn, New York, EquityByDesign.org has created this 10-point plan to help schools promote vaccination and address hesitancy. This plan is informed by insights and resources from practitioners and experts across health and education.
This toolkit is organized into 10 distinct tips schools can implement to expand vaccination nationwide:
Listen to and understand vaccine hesitancy.
Pair access and strong relationships with high-quality curriculum on vaccination.
Use quality, vetted resources and set up systems to share timely information.
Run campaigns promoting vaccination for school communities.
Use school buildings and campuses as community vaccination centers.
Encourage, mandate, and incentivize vaccines for employees.
Form partnerships to address equity concerns.
Embrace science, inside and outside the school community.
Continue COVID-19 prevention practices.
Protect vulnerable people in the community.
Each tip includes an introduction explaining the role for schools and educators, as well as concrete actions schools can take. This guide also includes case studies, featured resources, and direct insights from the many experts we engaged in this research.
We invite you to use and share this new resource for public schools to play a leading role in supporting the nation’s vaccination campaign. We hope that as more schools communicate more frequently about the vaccines, families will gain the knowledge to make informed decisions for themselves and their loved ones. Together, we can help the country overcome this virus so that our school communities can get back to the important work of educating young people for the future.