In the current issue of the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice, public health experts assert that improved community engagement is needed to prevent the spread of pandemics. The observations are based on an assessment of distribution and vaccination trends for the H1N1 vaccine in Los Angeles County in 2009, with a special focus on the African American community.
“Despite targeted outreach and education efforts in African American communities in Los Angeles County, African Americans participated at a much lower rate in free public mass vaccination clinics,” Lloyd F. Novick, MD, MPH, editor-in-chief, stated in a press release. “Public health officials did not engage trusted leaders within African American communities, which resulted in miscommunication about the importance and safety of the vaccine.”
The authors note that while vaccine production and distribution has improved, any under-vaccinated community could experience a greater burden of disease if presented with an especially viral strain of influenza. Engagement strategies need to be adjusted and enhanced based on community culture and needs. In Los Angeles, community leaders including faith-based leaders and radio disc jockeys were reportedly advised against the vaccine, citing safety issues. E-mails and social network sites also shared inaccurate messages about the vaccine. The authors recommend that trust building and collaboration start long before there is any evidence of an impending pandemic.