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Cedars-Sinai Blog

Overcoming Vaccine Hesitancy Hurdles

Caroline L. Goldzweig, MD, Chief Medical Officer at Cedars-Sinai Medical Care Foundation

Caroline L. Goldzweig, MD

Cedars-Sinai received its first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. That special delivery brought tangible hope for a post-pandemic world.

But we're not there yet.

"The vaccine is still the most powerful tool we have to prevent an infection from the virus that causes COVID-19," says Caroline Goldzweig, MD, chief medical officer of the Cedars-Sinai Medical Network, commenting on the recent surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the Delta variant. Unvaccinated individuals account for the majority of those cases and vaccine hesitancy has proven to be among the highest hurdles to clear en route to turning the coronavirus into an endemic virus and its protective benefits.

Hesitancy is multifaceted. For many in communities of color, there is historically rooted mistrust of the medical establishment. Contemporary challenges include a tsunami of social-media misinformation. For others, particularly in underserved communities, there are formidable vaccine-access issues—from lacking transportation to working multiple jobs.

Cedars-Sinai is meeting this vaccine-hesitancy moment via multiple outreach initiatives centered on holding candid conversations in communities where vaccination rates are low, equipping staff to serve as vaccine ambassadors, dispelling misinformation with vaccine facts and increasing vaccine access.

"The vaccine is still the most powerful tool we have to prevent an infection from the virus that causes COVID-19."

Candid conversations

Cedars-Sinai COVID-19 community vaccination infographic.

Throughout 2021, Cedars-Sinai has been partnering with local civic and faith leaders and respected community organizations to have open, honest dialogues together with members of underserved communities about vaccine concerns. The centerpiece of these conversations has been Cedars-Sinai's "Embracing Our Community: LIVE!"—virtual forums created to address crucial issues.

On April 13, Cedars-Sinai—in collaboration with—hosted an Embracing Our Community: LIVE! focusing on vaccine concerns in the Black community, where the current vaccination rate in Los Angeles County is 48.4%. A panel of Black health experts and faith leaders discussed factors contributing to vaccine hesitancy and shared why they decided to get vaccinated.

Panelist Kenneth C. Ulmer, PhD, bishop and senior pastor of the Faithful Central Bible Church in Los Angeles, told the virtual audience, "Not only did I get vaccinated, but I made an extra effort to make sure our congregation knew I'd been vaccinated."

Elaine Batchlor, MD, CEO of Martin Luther King Community Healthcare in Los Angeles, put it this way: "I feel a big sense of relief and gratitude for this amazing gift that science has given us."

Cedars-Sinai COVID-19 masking infographic.

On Aug. 11, Cedars-Sinai held "Dosis de Esperanza" (Doses of Hope), an Embracing Our Community: LIVE! event to explore COVID-19 vaccine concerns in Latinx communities. Presented in Spanish with an English translation available, the interactive discussion debunked vaccine falsehoods and spotlighted ways to remove vaccine barriers. The current vaccination rate among Latinx residents in Los Angeles County is 57.5%.

The Latinx panelists made impassioned pleas, urging viewers to get vaccinated.

Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, said she's encountered many Latinos who contend they're stronger than COVID-19 and won't get sick. She emphasized that people in their community are dying and that being vaccinated brings significant solace.

"Get vaccinated for the children under 12 who aren't eligible yet," stressed Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez. "It's time to do the right thing so we can put this pandemic behind us."

These two Embracing Our Community: LIVE! vaccine-hesitancy forums together reached more than 73,000 people

Doses of Hope campaign

Cedars-Sinai COVID-19 vaccination infographic.

In early August, Cedars-Sinai launched Doses of Hope, a multicomponent health education campaign aimed at addressing vaccine hesitancy. 

An especially moving component is an emotional series of videos featuring Cedars-Sinai medical professionals pleading for viewers to get vaccinated.

Other campaign components include:

Cedars-Sinai ambassadors who conduct personal outreach to communities of color and share facts about COVID-19 vaccines.

An animated video, available in English and Spanish, that explains how COVID-19 vaccines work.

Doses of Hope materials, offered in English and Spanish, that are free to community organizations educating the public about COVID-19 vaccine safety and efficacy.

Drive-throughs and pop-ups

COVID-19 Research infographic

Cedars-Sinai has stepped up its vaccination efforts by meeting folks where they are, literally. For car-centric Angelenos, that's meant holding drive-through vaccination clinics.

In March, Cedars-Sinai provided technical support and guidance to the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) as part of standing up a large-scale vaccination site on the grounds of SoFi Stadium in Inglewood for the district's more than 86,000 employees.

Drive-through vaccination clinics were offered to the public for several weeks at the Beverly Center mall in Los Angeles and continue to be offered at the Thalians building on the Cedars-Sinai campus in West L.A.

To accommodate those without wheels, Cedars-Sinai partnered with a host of trusted organizations—area Boys & Girls Clubs and churches; Children's Institute; Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights; several LAUSD schools; Martin Luther King Community Healthcare; Melrose Action; and The Graff Lab—to hold pop-up clinics in L.A. neighborhoods with low vaccination rates. Clinics are centrally located and walk-ins are welcomed.

The drive-through and pop-up shots-in-arms tally thus far is nearly 116,000.

"As an African-American doctor, I know minority patients want to be taken care of by people who look like them," says Kyle Monk, MD, a Cedars-Sinai pediatrician who helped staff a South Los Angeles pop-up clinic. "By administering the vaccine and having personally received the shot, it gives others confidence to get vaccinated."

Onyeka Obioha, MD, a Cedars-Sinai dermatologist who served as a vaccinator at the same pop-up clinic adds, "Although there's a lot of hesitancy in the minority population, everyone I vaccinated was ready and willing to get the vaccine."

Honest Conversations About the COVID-19 Vaccine

Download and share the Community Toolkit to help you communicate with your team, the individuals you serve and the public. These materials are meant to be a starting point and a resource to ensure you feel both knowledgeable and confident conducting outreach and your organization’s communications are based in the latest scientific evidence and medical facts.

Share these materials online where you feel appropriate to help amplify the message.

Cedars-Sinai strongly encourages all Angelenos to get vaccinated. Current Cedars-Sinai patients can make COVID-19 vaccination appointments by opening their My CS-Link™ app or calling 1-855-427-5465. All Californians can visit the California Department of Public Health's My Turn website to find a nearby vaccination clinic.