When the COVID-19 vaccine became widely available in 2021, locating an appointment and finding transportation made access difficult in some communities. Distrust, however, was the bigger hurdle to vaccine adoption. It was urgently important that we find ways to remove these barriers to protect people from the virus and support communities.
Offering Vaccines — and More — At the Barbershop
A great haircut and lively conversation are what typically draw people to Gee’s Clippers, a local barbershop in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Gee’s convenient location and strong ties within Milwaukee’s Black communities made it possible for the barbershop’s owner, Gaulien “Gee” Smith, to partner with Elevance Health’s Wisconsin health plan affiliate to host a wellness clinic within his barbershop.
“The barbershop has more responsibility in the community than to make the community look good,” Gee says. “We’re able to communicate things to our clients that they wouldn’t even talk to their doctors about.”
For much of 2021, the wellness clinic was a destination for many neighborhood residents to receive their COVID-19 vaccine and other health services. A combination of social drivers of health (unstable housing and limited access to high-quality care), high rates of preexisting conditions, and slow uptake of vaccination, meant many communities of color have been hit especially hard by COVID-19. In fact, over the course of the pandemic, Black and Hispanic/Latino adults have been about 2.5 times more likely to be hospitalized due to COVID-19 than White adults. Major barriers to vaccination have included the lack of easy access and lack of trusted messengers and resources for health information. The localized, community-centric approach at Gee’s helped community members feel more comfortable about vaccinations, and the clinic continues to connect community members to various local resources, including healthcare.