Hispanics, Marshallese in Arkansas more likely to turn to houses of worship over hospitals for vaccinations, study shows

This outdoor clinic, held at First United Methodist Church in Springdale in August 2021, helped provide covid-19 vaccines to members of the Marshallese community. Faith-based health outreaches have been effective at reaching members of the state’s Marshallese and Hispanic communities, a new study states. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)

When it comes to vaccination sites, members of Arkansas' Hispanic and Marshallese communities prefer houses of worship to hospital settings, according to researchers at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Office of Community Health & Research.

A study, published in the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care, found that members of both groups were "more open to receiving the covid-19 vaccine at their church than in a medical setting," according to a summary released by UAMS.

Researchers based their findings on a survey of 1,476 recently vaccinated subjects. A majority -- 927 -- had obtained shots at traditional clinical settings, while 519 had received them at special church-backed vaccination events.

A majority of Marshallese as well as Hispanic participants had opted for the faith-based efforts. So had a majority of the respondents with less than a high school education.

Participants in the faith-based events had less formal education and lower health literacy than those getting shots in typical clinical settings. Nonetheless, they were more likely to report "completely" trusting in the vaccines they had received, researchers said.

Titled "Comparing community-driven COVID-19 vaccine distribution methods: Faith-based organizations vs. outpatient clinics," the study (tinyurl.com/5tu7m2nu)listed 15 authors, including UAMS officials from Fayetteville and Little Rock as well as representatives of the Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese, the Marshallese Educational Initiative and the Republic of the Marshall Islands Consulate.

Since the start of the public health emergency in March 2020, more than 1.1 million Americans have died as a result of covid-19, including at least 12,800 Arkansans, according to the New York Times.

Of the Arkansans who have died of covid since February 2021, 71.4% had not been fully immunized, UAMS officials said.

In a written statement, Pearl McElfish, division director of the UAMS Office of Community Health and Research, said the research "can help guide public health efforts to help those communities become better protected against various illnesses, including covid-19 and the flu."

In an interview Wednesday, McElfish said UAMS has been eager to work with faith-based organizations of all stripes.

The survey results suggested that Marshallese and Hispanic residents "really feel more comfortable" in a church setting as opposed to a doctor's office, she noted.

Faith-based sites provide "important opportunities to reach these minority populations in particular, but perhaps other minority or hard to reach populations as well," she added.

When it comes to public health efforts, it makes sense for medical professionals to collaborate with organizations that have already made inroads with minority populations, she said.

This is true not only for vaccines but for a variety of critical preventative screenings, she added.

"If we really want to transform the health of Arkansas and reach populations who are underserved, we need to partner with the organizations that they trust, get outside of our clinics, get outside of our universities and go to where people are," she said.

"Those populations aren't hard to reach," she said. "If you go where people are comfortable, it is easy to reach them."