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  • NASW-IL Staff

Shining a Light on COVID-19: Social Work Interventions for Older African Americans

Deborah P. Hammond DHSc, LCSW. CADC 

Connect to End COVID-19 Initiative Ambassador and NASW Member

 

As a recent doctoral student, I had an opportunity to interview older adult African American women for my dissertation. I was touched by the stories that were shared on the impact of COVID-19 on their lives and the lives of family, friends, and neighbors. I knew I needed to act by becoming a NASW COVID Ambassador. As an Ambassador, my mission is to help social workers and their older adult clients make informed decisions about life-saving vaccines.

 

Background: COVID and Vaccination Information

Over 1.1 million Americans have died as a result of COVID-19 in the United States alone. The fact that the great majority of these deaths happened to unvaccinated people despite vaccines being widely available adds poignancy to this startling number. Currently, there is ample evidence supporting the COVID-19 vaccines' general safety and effectiveness. Additionally, a plethora of recent data indicates that the best defense against the virus's severe sickness is to remain vaccinated. Even with these facts, only approximately 22% of Americans have received the most recent booster dose; rates are even lower for vulnerable groups like pregnant people, members of BIPOC communities, and the uninsured (COVID Data Tracker, 2023).

 

Statistics

I currently live and practice in the state of Illinois, where recent statistics show 357 new COVID- 19 hospital admissions recorded in the week of April 8, 2024. That's about 2.8 persons per 100,000, which emphasizes the disease's continuous risk. Older persons, people with pre-existing diseases including mental health concerns, and people of different racial backgrounds are among those who are more vulnerable (Illinois Department of Public Health COVID Act NOW Data).

 

Historical Vaccine Hesitancy amongst African Americans

There are numerous challenges faced by older adults, especially African Americans. Compared to other populations, older Black and African American Americans had lower immunization rates. Deep-seated problems including historical neglect and mistrust of the healthcare system are some of the causes of this disparity. Studies conducted prior to the availability of vaccines found that the main causes of this reluctance were: uncertainty, systemic abandonment, decrease in trust, resistance to vaccines, and opportunities for vaccination (Harris et al., 2023).


Professional Insight

As a licensed clinical social worker, I have spent my career working and volunteering with older adult populations. I have witnessed firsthand the significant impact that vaccinations can have. I remember an African American woman who was a member of my outreach group for socially isolated older adults. She was quite nervous about getting vaccinated. Putting her faith in a system that had disappointed her and her community in the past was her biggest worry. She overcame her initial hesitancy and was vaccinated. As social workers, we understand how to meet people where they are and understand the final choice is theirs to make.


In my experience as a social worker working with this population, we must understand the importance of listening, acknowledging and validating their feedback. Many of my older African American clients feel their voices are not heard on health issues, including COVID vaccines. It is essential that social workers establish clear lines of communication and present factual information regarding COVID vaccines. Providing accurate information and building a rapport will lead to establishing a trusting relationship. Older adults can be open and honest in their discussions with social workers regarding COVID-19 and vaccines.


A Call to Action

Social workers play a critical role in bridging the gap between medical advice and community trust. We are often seen as trusted messengers in various communities, capable of addressing fears and providing ongoing support. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is actively working to empower social workers through the Connect to End COVID-19 initiative. This program, in collaboration with UT/Austin and funded by the CDC, equips social workers with the necessary tools to assist people in navigating their vaccination decisions. I’m asking social workers to make a commitment as part of your professional development to attend free training, workshops and webinars listed on the Connect to end COVID-19 websites (NASW, Connect to End COVID- 19).


Social Workers: Bridging Gaps

NASW encourages social workers to stay informed with the latest CDC guidelines and to promote vaccination actively. By tackling the psychosocial factors contributing to vaccine hesitancy, we can make a real difference as everyday neighborhood change agents. Adults 65 years and older are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, with more than half of COVID-19 hospitalizations during October 2023 to December 2023 occurring in this age group (Center for Disease Control COVID Tracker Demographics).

 

Learn More and Get Involved

To learn more about how social workers are on the frontlines of preventing the spread of COVID-19 or need resources to help make your decision about vaccines, check out the COVID-19 Vaccine Confidence website (NASW, COVID)- www.socialworkers.org). Dealing with COVID- 19, especially amongst older adult African Americans, requires a thoughtful, inclusive approach that acknowledges their concerns while building a path forward with trust and transparency.


Additional Resources

 

●        NASW Trainings (Complimentary Webinars and CEUs)

●          NASW Toolkit

 

 

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Data Tracker 2023 https://covid,cdc.gov/covid-data- tracker/#vaccine-delivery-coverage

 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Data Tracker Demographics 2023 https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#demographicsovertime

 

Harris, O. O., Perry, T. E., Johnson, J. K., Lichtenberg, P., Washington, T., Kitt, B., Shaw, M., Keiser, S., Tran, T., Vest, L., Maloof, M., & Portacolone, E. (2023). Understanding the concept of trust and other factors related to COVID-19 vaccine intentions among Black/African American older adults prior to vaccine development. SSM. Qualitative research in health, 3, 100230. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ssmqr.2023.10023https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC98 98052/

 

Illinois Department of Public Health COVID Act NOW Data https://covidactnow.org/us/illinois-il/?s=49703715

 

 

NASW COVID-19 https://www.socialworkers.org/Practice/Infectious- Diseases/Coronavirus/COVID-19-Vaccine-Confidence

 

Dr. Hammond is a Program Director for a social service agency. She has a private practice specializing in older adults.


DISCLAIMER This project and article is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $3.3 million with 100 percent funded by CDC/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by, CDC/HHS, or the U.S. Government.

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