Thursday, June 13, 2024

A Get Out The Vax volunteer works in Boston in June. (Photo: Get Out The Vax via Twitter)

Cambridge Health Alliance has hired a political consultant with expertise in getting out the vote to try to increase Covid-19 vaccination rates. The consultant, Mac D’Alessandro, and his company, Campaign Industries, will use a strategy that has worked in elections, D’Alessandro told members of the CHA population health committee March 17.

“We realized that something good has come from politics,” D’Alessandro said. The method, called “vote tripling,” was used by organizers trying to persuade more people to cast their vote, he said.

The organizers “would stand out in front of polling places” on Election Day and ask people who had just voted “if they would be willing to contact three friends or family members and ask them to come out,” D’Alessandro said. It was more persuasive than more conventional methods of canvassing, he said.

It could translate well to efforts to persuade people to get vaccinated because conversations among people who know each other involve “less condescension,” D’Alessandro said.

He called the CHA experiment “vaccine tripling.” In it, 15 “trained, multilingual organizers” will call CHA patients who have already been vaccinated and ask them to contact three people “in their personal network” whom they suspect haven’t received a shot, D’Alessandro said. The vaccinated patients will talk with their family members or friends about vaccination, he said.

The eight-week program will operate in Everett, Revere and Malden, communities categorized by the state Department of Public Health as underserved and also in the Alliance’s service area. CHA’s research arm, the Institute for Community Health, will examine effectiveness, including surveying patients and organizers about their experience, executive director Sarah Jalbert said. Whether non-vaccinated people got vaccinated after they were contacted will be based on their own report, not independent evidence.

Boston effort

CHA isn’t the first Massachusetts organization to use political organizing strategies to increase Covid-19 vaccination rates in underserved communities. A diverse group of health care, local government and community groups launched Get Out The Vax, or GOTVax, in low-income, nonwhite neighborhoods of Boston in February 2021. They opened pop-up vaccination sites in those neighborhoods and “employed strategies commonly used in political campaigns,” including “door-to-door canvassing, phone and text banking and relational organizing,” according to a June 30, 2021, commentary in New England Journal of Medicine Catalyst, a publication about health care innovations.

That effort included “vaccine tripling,” and more. Organizers got contact information from the Boston Housing Authority, unions and other entities serving low-income people of color and called, texted or visited them to sign them up for vaccination appointments at the pop-up clinics. While people waited for the required 15 minutes after vaccination, organizers approached them to contact three family members or friends.

In nine weeks, GOTVax vaccinated 4,784 people in 26 clinics in minority, low-income neighborhoods, the report said. Of the total, 80 percent identified as a person of color, almost 41 percent had no health insurance and almost 25 percent were covered by Medicaid, the program for low-income people. Few black people got vaccinated, however, only 6.5 percent; Hispanic people made up 57 percent.

Proven track record

David Cecere, spokesman for CHA, said the Campaign Industries project is an “extension” of the type of program that GOTVax developed. He said Campaign Industries was chosen “because it has a proven track record in vaccine equity, education and outreach programs, including contracted work” with the state.

According to D’Alessandro, Campaign Industries worked for seven months last year with the state Department of Public Health and Health Care for All, the health care consumer advocacy group, doing “outreach and education” on vaccination in nine underserved communities.

Cecere said he did not know exactly how much Campaign Industries is being paid.

Comparing vaccination rates

Everett, Malden and Revere, the communities where the vaccine tripling program will operate, have better vaccination rates for some ethnic and racial groups than Cambridge. A higher percentage of Asian and Latino residents have been fully vaccinated in all three of those cities than in Cambridge, for example. Malden and Revere also have a higher proportion of residents who are fully vaccinated, according to the latest state report March 31.

“CHA is committed to vaccine equity which evaluates vaccination rates by population, not just the total numbers vaccinated,” he said. He pointed out that there are far lower proportions of black residents who are fully vaccinated in Everett, Malden and Revere than in Cambridge, where 83 percent are fully vaccinated.

Cecere also said the percentage of fully vaccinated children from 5 to 11 in Everett, Revere and Malden is much lower than in Cambridge. But Cambridge continues to lag behind the state and the three “equity” communities in vaccinating teens from ages 16 to 19.