When monkeypox (Mpox) first hit New York City in 2022, Epicenter-NYC knew immediately it needed to act fast to help stop the spread. Jackson Heights, Queens, the neighborhood where Epicenter first started, is an intersectional mecca consisting of immigrant, gay and multicultural residents. The density of our neighborhood (which led to our designation as the “epicenter of the epicenter” for Covid-19) breeds conditions for close social and physical contact, as well as a thriving bar, club, and dance scene, which could proliferate the spread of the Mpox virus. Without accounting for the many overlaps and complicated lives of our communities, there could be no effective strategy to combat Mpox.
Our goal for the project was to help stem the outbreak and mitigate potential inequities in healthcare access and outcomes by collaborating with community partners to do outreach and engagement in communities most at risk for Mpox. With the support of the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, we were able to raise awareness about the virus and local prevention, testing, and care options that are affirming and non-stigmatizing; and connect community members to services including vaccination appointments.
The barriers to vaccines seem insurmountable in our communities because of mistrust of the medical establishment, a lack of spoken or written English skills, a lack of information on vaccines and their efficacy, and a lack of trusted sources or unified media or news dissemination. Further, this section of Queens is home to some of the most bar and restaurant workers in the city; they traverse across all five boroughs at all hours to make ends meet, often working multiple jobs. We found the traditional sites, systems and schedules of vaccinations (health clinics, Monday through Friday, pharmacies, or city vans with online appointments) do not meet the unique needs of this working-class population.
Our solution to the challenges of increasing vaccine equity reflects how Epicenter-NYC works; we meet people where they are. Since the start of the Covid-19 vaccine rollout was such a challenge, we developed solutions that we applied to inform our community about Mpox and used them to navigate vaccination sites: A volunteer corps, a telephone hotline, an email address, and a series of outreach efforts to let our community know we were there to help them. We partnered with community leaders and organizations to get the word out by tabling at their events, sharing in our newsletter, designing fliers, recording podcasts, promoting our outreach on social media, sending SMS alerts, and more. We conducted vaccine drives at bars, hair salons and grocery stores; all in an effort to meet folks where they were.
Through our message dissemination, on-the-ground outreach, and navigation services, we increased awareness around Mpox. Specifically, we educated our community about what the virus is and how it spreads, its symptoms, safe practices, where to receive a vaccine, and where to receive treatment if infected.
By the numbers:
Attended over 60 events, across seven Queens neighborhoods
Shared Mpox information with several thousand newsletter subscribers weekly
Vaccinated 30 New Yorkers for Mpox, including on-site with mobile vaccine units and through scheduling appointments on their behalf
Broadcasted close to 20 episodes of our Mpox updates through our weekly podcast
Shared over 60 posts on Mpox through multiple social media channels
Distributed over 6,000 fliers navigating people to Mpox information and resources
Designed over 15 unique fliers, in English and in Spanish
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