One Black woman's journey promoting vaccination in rural Michigan during the COVID-19 pandemic despite personal health risk

Celebrating Black History Month: One Black woman's journey promoting vaccination during the COVID-19 pandemic

Marquetta Frost talks on the phone while sitting in a booth at a restaurant
“Helping others in the community through all of my volunteer work gives me satisfaction, and being vaccinated helps me do that safely and with confidence!” – Marquetta Frost

Marquetta Frost, a Black woman from the small town of Albion, Michigan, has been promoting vaccination among Black Americans and others in her community. Frost works for MSU Extension 4-H and spent two years volunteering as a COVID Ambassador with the Albion Health Care Alliance and Population Health Alliance of Calhoun County under the Battle Creek Community Foundation. As an ambassador, Frost knocked on doors and spoke with Albion residents about their vaccination concerns and shared with them the benefits of vaccinating against COVID-19. Frost was drawn to this work by the number of people in her community who became ill or died from COVID-19. In her experience, talking to others about the personal decision to vaccinate is challenging work. In underserved and marginalized communities, vaccine hesitancy rates are typically higher and access to trusted healthcare professionals can be limited.

To reach community members in Albion, Frost says, “For two years, we knocked on doors in different precincts in my city and asked them, Are you vaccinated? Would you like information about it? Every home in Albion, the door got knocked on. And there were about 6 to 8 ambassadors, and we each took precincts. From there, we developed these vaccine clinics that we took to Albion and all over Calhoun County. I am the lead ambassador here in Albion, and there is one in Battle Creek. Because of the work we did, Calhoun County was ranked number one for getting underserved people vaccinations. It's been a great project to be a part of.”

"Because of the work we did, Calhoun County was ranked number one for getting underserved people vaccinations. It's been a great project to be a part of."

A 2022 study published in JAMA Network Open reported that Black Americans more rapidly lost their mistrust of COVID-19 vaccinations, medical providers, and their delivery methods than other ethnicities. A continuing issue with the population is barriers preventing people from getting the vaccine, such as cost or transportation.

Part of that decrease in mistrust can be credited to the tireless work of people like Frost. She believes she has been a trusted and effective messenger of vaccine education to Black communities and others because she understands where vaccine hesitancy in marginalized communities comes from. According to Frost, “There is a huge hesitancy in the African American community, I work with the Albion Health Care Alliance under the Battle Creek Community Foundation, and they have trained us in having those hard conversations with people who are resistant. And when I say having those hard conversations, letting them know it’s available, giving them information if they would like to, but giving them space as well, and letting them make their decision on their own if they would like to get the vaccination or not, letting them know where they can get it.”

Even when vaccinations are free, she has seen people refuse to get vaccinated. Frost explained, “A lot of times, the vaccination is free. You do not have to go to your doctor to get it; most people trust their doctor. But in the African American community, trust is not easily given because of different things that have happened in the past to us because we were not educated on the different tests that were done and things like that. For example, we were tested on to see what diseases would do to the brain. So, we, as a culture, safeguard ourselves. But, I try to make sure I tell people to educate yourself, talk with your doctor, talk with someone you trust, and get education on the vaccination. We try to tell people that it is safe, but for some people, that doesn’t matter.”

Talking with people over the last three years has been a risk for Frost because she is on dialysis, but it is a risk she is willing to take because of the impact she can make. She shared, “I have chronic kidney disease, renal failure. I have high blood pressure and sugar diabetes, which led to my kidney failure. I have been on dialysis, I think, for seven to eight years now. I really have to be careful because my immune system is a bit compromised because of that. My body doesn’t process things as a normal person. I have to be careful with the common cold and other things. I have to get right on it, or I could get really sick.”

The Center for Disease Control released information on August 11, 2023, that renal failure patients are still at higher risk. They reported, “During June 30, 2021 to September 27, 2022, rates of SARS-Co-V-2 infection and COVID-19-related deaths were higher among maintenance dialysis patients compared with rates in the U.S. population. These higher infection rates were attenuated by vaccination.”

Reflecting on the COVID Ambassador program, Frost says, “I really enjoy the work that I do because we have gone to some of the hardest to vaccinate areas, and we've been able to vaccinate some people that otherwise would not have been vaccinated including Tekonsha, including Homer, and different places like that. Those places are harder to get to a pharmacy or someone to bring the shot. So, we bring the shot directly to them, as well as the flu shots. We’ve had great results with that and even quite a few African Americans.”

Individuals have shared with her why they got the shot, but Frost also has her observations. She said, “I think the reason is personal. I think one is location, if it is convenient in your neighborhood and friends are calling you saying, ‘hey, they are doing a vaccine clinic. Come on over,’ and sometimes they will come just out of relationships. It’s all about trust. If they trust the person calling and giving them the information, a lot of times they will come and try it.”

Frost credits her family’s support for her volunteer efforts. “Once COVID hit, we learned about the effects it could have on me because of my condition. My family was wholeheartedly behind me, and everyone in my home made sure they were vaccinated as well as me.”

Although the COVID ambassador program has slowed down, the program has been extended into 2024. Frost will continue her work of educating others as long as her health allows, stating, “Helping others in the community through all of my volunteer work gives me satisfaction, and being vaccinated helps me do that safely and with confidence!”

To learn more, explore Michigan State University Extension’s partnership with the Michigan Vaccine Project to find links to event schedules, podcasts, publications, webinars, and videos relating to vaccine education.

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