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Taking it Local: How a Career Focused on Public Health Improves Community Health

“What I attempt to do is to first reinforce that while I may not have enough information to validate someone’s specific belief, I can share what I know as a mother, a grandmother, a great grandmother and a public health professional who has done the research and who is constantly seeking as we often do in the faith community.”

Dr. Bambi Gaddist has spent her entire career focused on public health and working to provide accurate information around health, particularly in communities that are disproportionately affected by health crises. The COVID-19 pandemic is no exception.

Today, Dr. Gaddist is one of seven national faith ambassadors who have joined more than 30 clergy-consultants from the Black, LatinX and American Indian/Alaska Native communities throughout the nation as part of a national, faith-based program called CoVPN Faith Initiative. The initiative was established by the COVID-19 Prevention Network – or CoVPN – and is designed to enhance trust and meaningful engagement in key communities and provide accurate and updated information about COVID-19 and CoVPN clinical trials. Rev. Edwin C. Sanders, II, head of the Metropolitan International Church in Nashville, Tenn., leads the initiative.

As part of the program’s community and stakeholder engagement, volunteers like Dr. Gaddist conduct outreach activities in partnership with other faith leaders to meaningfully engage key communities and provide accurate and updated information that will enhance trust. They have hosted a number of events – and their efforts are a major reason why vaccination rates continue to increase among Black and Hispanic communities across the nation. While there is still work to be done to remove barriers to the vaccines and accurate information, KFF recently reported that “current patterns reflect growing shares of vaccinations going to Hispanic and Black people over time.”

This further fuels the need to keep programs like the CoVPN Faith Initiative going. Their work includes hosting, presenting or facilitating educational webinars, community town hall meetings and other conversations in a range of settings, including churches, colleges and community centers. In addition, some volunteers are also engaged with clergy whose goal is to increase vaccinations by hosting vaccine events.

To avoid what she calls “COVID burnout,” Dr. Gaddist and her fellow faith ambassadors always looks for ways to tie in different aspects of COVID-19 to make the topics current and relevant for each audience.

For example, she and a fellow faith ambassador recently hosted an event on social justice and COVID-19. Dr. Gaddist explains that much of the program’s success can be attributed to being willing to acknowledge the systemic health care disparities that exist. Instead of shying away from difficult topics, Dr. Gaddist and other ambassadors address them up front and provide participants the opportunity to discuss their concerns or any hesitation in a non-judgmental environment.

Overall, Dr. Gaddist said, the goal for any interaction is to continue educating the community, getting them engaged in spaces where they will reconsider what they think about the pandemic, and getting them to think about vaccines and how they can become an active part of saving lives. That will ultimately help increase vaccination rates and finally put an end to the pandemic.


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