In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic worsened health disparities for BIPOC communities, stressing the systemic and structural racism that already existed in public health

Public Good News spoke to a community health worker on what it takes to overcome history in her day-to-day work navigating vaccine hesitancy in communities throughout Atlanta. 

Here’s what she said. 

Noelle Mobley

Lives in: Atlanta

Profession: Vaccine hesitancy coordinator

Affiliation: Center for Black Women’s Wellness

I don’t push the vaccine on any one of my clients. Anybody who comes to talk to me, I don’t push the vaccine on them. And I’m a vaccine coordinator. Why would I do that?

No, what I need to do is explain the vaccines to them. And then let them make their own decision. And it may not be when you want them to get the vaccine. But I think that’s important, too, like, don’t badger the person into getting a vaccine.

I ask very open-ended questions because I want to hear what they have to say.

I’m gonna ask, “Have you been vaccinated?” And if they tell me yes or no, I’m gonna follow up [with], “Why haven’t you been vaccinated?”

A lot of the time, the reasoning would be either the Tuskegee study or the Henrietta Lacks study or just, “I don’t trust the government.” 

I’ve gotten so many different responses. 

So I’m gonna follow up with, “What happened during the Tuskegee study?” So, then they’ll tell me what they interpret happened. 

Then we have to fact-check.

But if you really think about all of those incidents, they’re rooted in racism. 

So, it is about building trust, particularly with the Black community. 

You’re not going to be able to get anything else done unless you gain their trust, want to know why? Because if they can’t trust you, they’re not going to [adopt health behaviors like getting vaccinated]. They haven’t trusted medical providers, government officials, politicians—they don’t trust them because in the past, they’ve proven they cannot be trusted. 

So, we have to learn how to bring that trust back for our people to where they feel confident in the health care system, they feel confident in going to the doctor to get a test, they feel confident in even receiving a vaccine. 

And I know a lot of people in their minds are like, “Dang, you’re that scared to get a vaccine?” 

Yes, they are. Yes, they are. They’re very scared to do something that another race is supporting or promoting. Because they know that in the past, it hasn’t been a good outcome. 

Trust comes from providing information, education, and fact-checking misinformation. And just being there, being consistent, showing up. Because that’s really what trust is, you know? Somebody seeing you consistently come to their neighborhood, and you’re out there passing out information and giving them advice on what they should be doing to keep themselves healthy. 

They see when you show up for their community—or you don’t—they see it. They pay attention. That’s where health care is missing the mark. We think people aren’t paying attention. They pay attention a lot. 

That’s why they don’t really have confidence in the health care system in general. We haven’t played a consistent role in their lives to help better their lives. 

So, we go out to these communities and have events to serve them and give them the vaccine. Guess what else? We’re coming out with COVID-19 testing kits, we’re coming out with medical kits, first-aid kits, where they can take their pulse, they can take their measurement for their blood pressure, they can use something to help with diabetes management. 

Overall wellness is important, too.