OREGON, USA — Oregon-based Regence and about a dozen other insurance providers are working to boost access to COVID-19 vaccinations for disproportionately impacted seniors and people of color.
Tonya Adams is the Regence chief of customer experience and operations, serving as the national spokesperson for the newly announced Vaccine Community Connectors program. For her, helping seniors navigate the pandemic and vaccination challenges feels like helping her own family.
"I wouldn't want my grandma and grandpa to struggle," Adams said. "We have been partnering with the White House senior advisors on how we can help combat vaccine inequity as more supply becomes available."
The goal is to identify and fully vaccinate 2 million people 65 and older from vulnerable communities. A big piece of the program is direct outreach, connecting people with appointments.
"Scheduling systems might be challenging. There might be transportation barriers," described Adams.
Insurance companies use their own data and Medicare information to find people who might need that extra help.
Pat Hubbell runs Brooklyn Pharmacy in Southeast Portland, which recently began COVID-19 vaccinations. Many patients are seniors, and he said many don't know the process with insurance. Vaccines are covered for everyone, but having clear information makes the process smoother.
"We really want folks to find that Medicare card...or number," Hubbel said. "No Social Security numbers please."
Assistance and information from the Vaccine Community Connectors program helps bridge such gaps.
Regence said it can also tap into the Social Vulnerability Index from the Centers of Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) to identify at-risk Americans.
Tonya Adams said, as a woman of color, the effort is especially meaningful to her. Many communities of color have experienced higher numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths per capita. She said historical distrust of the government and medical systems can make reaching those communities difficult in the vaccination process.
One outlet she is pursuing to fix that is linking vaccine information with Black churches.
"I'm a girl from the south, and one of the things that you do when you're not sure about something is talk with your pastor. They are a trusted resource in the community," Adams said. "And then of course collating that right information and distilling it in a way that's easy to understand."
She said such avenues help reach people where they are and in culturally relevant ways. Another example is the program providing educational materials in Spanish to reduce vaccine hesitancy.
"As a person of color...I want to be an example, a guide, a resource and a beacon to say, 'It's OK," Adams said. "Let us all trust the science together."