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Volunteers reach out directly to community members to spread information about the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines. ELIJAH NOUVELAGE/AFP via Getty Images
  • In an effort to vaccinate more Americans, President Joe Biden is pushing a door-to-door campaign to spread information about the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines.
  • Misinformation about the campaign, which is largely reliant on community and faith-based organizations, has been spreading and may cause confusion about what it actually is.
  • Door-to-door public health campaigns have been used for decades in the U.S. and across the globe with successful results.

In a continued effort to get Americans vaccinated, President Joe Biden is pushing a door-to-door campaign in which volunteers reach out directly to community members to spread information about the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines.

“Now we need to go to the community by community, neighborhood by neighborhood, and oftentimes, door to door — literally knocking on doors — to get help to the remaining people,” Biden said in a recent news conference.

According to the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 68 percent of U.S. adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Still, progress has plateaued across the country, with the rate of new vaccinations on the decline, spurring concern that steep rises in COVID-19 cases may be seen in areas with low vaccination rates.

Experts are warning that the delta variant, which is more transmissible and becoming more pervasive in the United States, will make this outcome more likely — and more dangerous.

Much of the decline in the progress of COVID-19 vaccinations has been blamed on misinformation, which leads to vaccine hesitancy. That is why the Biden administration has been focusing on community-driven, grassroots efforts to get the message across that vaccines are safe and effective.

Yet, like much of the antiscience rhetoric being spread throughout the pandemic from some political leaders, the campaign has received widely publicized criticism in the form of fearmongering and blatant lies.

“The Biden administration wants to knock on your door to see if you’re vaccinated,” tweeted Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan. “What’s next? Knocking on your door to see if you own a gun?”

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson tweeted: “I have directed our health department to let the federal government know that sending government employees or agents door-to-door to compel vaccination would NOT be an effective OR a welcome strategy in Missouri!”

However, since April, the grassroots campaign has been ongoing by a group the Biden administration refers to as the COVID-19 Community Corps, consisting largely of volunteers, advocacy groups, corporations, and local community organizations.

“These are people the community knows,” said Rita Burke, PhD, an assistant professor of clinical preventive medicine at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine and an expert in public health response to disasters, pandemics, and childhood trauma. “It’s not federal workers or someone brand new coming in and telling people what to do. These are people that are part of the community. This is going to be done on a local level.”

The Keck School of Medicine is a member of the COVID-19 Community Corps.

For its part, the Biden administration has shot back at critics of the community vaccine campaign.

“For those individuals, organizations that are feeding misinformation and trying to mischaracterize this type of trusted-messenger work, I believe you are doing a disservice to the country and the doctors, the faith leaders, community leaders, and others who are working to get people vaccinated, save lives and help end this pandemic,” Jeff Zients, White House COVID-19 coordinator, said in a COVID-19 news briefing.

In Washington D.C.’s Ward 8, a predominantly Black and low-income community, which has experienced the highest per-capita rate of coronavirus-related deaths in D.C., the overwhelming majority of those leading the charge to get residents vaccinated are local organizations, clergy, and volunteers.

“These are people the community knows and trusts,” said Dr. Jehan El-Bayoumi, a professor of medicine at George Washington University and founder of the Rodham Institute, an organization working on health equity issues in Washington. “They’re not just there as fair-weathered friends. These are people that have been there for the community and will continue to show up.”

Earlier this year, the Rodham Institute worked with former first lady of Washington D.C. Cora Masters Barry and the Black Coalition Against COVID-19 to put on a mass vaccination event at the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center in Ward 8.

To get people to the event, organizers relied on community and faith-based organizations, including local food banks, nonprofit organizations, health centers, and churches, for outreach and door-to-door efforts to sign people up.

“Community-based organizations know their neighborhoods intimately,” El-Bayoumi wrote in an op-ed for The Washington Post. “They know who has an internet connection, who is food insecure, who has lost someone to the coronavirus. They know the obstacles that impede the path to good health.”

These organizations are also aware of the varied reasons residents have yet to be vaccinated, which are not always based on antiscience beliefs, El-Bayoumi emphasizes.

“In under-resourced communities such as Ward 8, people must decide which competing priority gets their immediate attention,” she wrote in the Post. “Paying the rent or putting food on the table can make preventive care or registering for a vaccine — even a lifesaving one — fall to the bottom of the to-do list.”

El-Bayoumi points to one church in particular — Ward 8’s Temple of Praise Baptist Church, responsible for delivering 1.2 million meals to residents throughout the pandemic and vaccinating 4,600 people.

To make the mass vaccination event more appealing, organizers provided food, a DJ, and additional health services like mental health consultations and blood pressure readings. Free Uber rides to and from the event were also provided.

“Something interesting people told us was ‘we like how it feels here,’” El-Bayoumi told Healthline. “When people are feeling disenfranchised, having an open, nonjudgmental, fun place where people feel they are respected and treated with dignity is so important.”

In the end, the event resulted in nearly 900 Ward 8 residents receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.

It’s important to note that door-to-door public health campaigns have been successfully implemented for decades in the U.S. and around the globe.

“This isn’t a new concept,” Burke said. “There’s been a really strong reaction to it, but we’ve done this sort of campaign before with polio and smallpox, so it’s really not a novel idea.”

In Africa, door-to-door canvassing is credited from 2014 to 2015 with helping slow the devastating Ebola epidemic. According to a study published in the journal Comparative Political Studies, after talking with canvassers, residents of Liberia, the epicenter of the outbreak, were 15 percent more supportive of disease control policies, 10 percent less likely to violate a ban on public gatherings, and 10 percent more likely to use hand sanitizer.

In the United States in the 1940s and ’50s, volunteers from the March of Dimes, most of whom were mothers, went door to door, spreading the latest information about polio and how to prevent it. They also asked for donations. The organization funded research for the polio vaccine, which led to eliminating the disease in the United States.

Similar door-to-door efforts continue throughout the world in areas where polio has yet to be eradicated.

“These are community members who are trusted and speak the language and speak the dialect,” Burke says. “That personal touch is really critical because you’re able to have that face-to-face conversation with a person and directly answer any questions or concerns.”