News Article

We are periodically featuring insights and lessons learned by grantees of Together We Protect, a partnership of Immunize Colorado, Colorado Vaccine Equity Taskforce, and 14 funders who came together to create Colorado’s COVID-19 Vaccine Equity Fund.

Gyedi Project: Becoming Knowledge Brokers

Long before the pandemic, the wife and husband team of Drs. Cynthia and Kweku Hazel were engaged in community health education, addressing health literacy gaps and supporting community members with health decision-making. “Our efforts in support of COVID-19 vaccine equity changed the way we work – we became knowledge brokers,” said Dr. Cynthia Hazel. With a doctorate in public health and expertise in community and behavioral health, Dr. Hazel is a researcher at OMNI Institute and co-leads the Gyedi Project together with Dr. Kweku Hazel, who is a surgical fellow at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital. The Hazels both immigrated, separately, from Ghana, West Africa, and now call Aurora home.

Centered on the Ghanaian Akan word that means “to believe,” Gyedi is a grassroots effort dedicated to empowering minority and underserved residents in Aurora and the Denver Metro Area to tackle health inequities and improve community well-being.

Gyedi Project COVID Vaccine Volunteers

“Once COVID hit, we started getting lots of questions. The Together We Protect grant made it possible to increase our educational outreach and host vaccine clinics,” Dr. Cynthia Hazel said. “Initially, we thought we would hold one vaccine clinic, anticipating up to 100 people. Instead, 221 people came to the clinic, which we held at the Solid Rock Baptist Church in Aurora. The atmosphere was like a “vaccine party or a community reunion.” Overwhelmingly, people shared their appreciation and encouraged us to host more clinics.

“We had 851 community members show up for our second clinic and 1,045 for the third clinic. At that time, more established clinics were experiencing challenges drawing hesitant BIPOC community members,” she said. As a researcher, Dr. Hazel quickly recognized the need to learn more about the factors that were facilitating or getting in the way of vaccine uptake.

“The people who came to our clinics had a lot of fears and misinformation about cost, insurance coverage, how quickly the vaccine was developed, whether information collected might be passed along for immigration purposes… some misinformation was so outrageous. But too often people felt that they were simply dismissed, and the dismissiveness caused more hesitancy,” said Dr. Hazel. “We learned that by having the patience and taking the time to listen, and then speaking respectfully to what people are hearing and fearing, we became knowledge brokers. This meant that we repackaged information in ways that were easily digestible and culturally responsive, such that people better understood and often went on to share what they learned with their families and friends.”

Dr. Cynthia Hazel (left) with clinic volunteers.

Dr. Hazel also points to the importance of providers and clinic volunteers being from the community and BIPOC, having interpreters to accommodate different languages, and not collecting more information than absolutely necessary. “We didn’t zoom in on too much personal information like date of birth, social security number, and address,” she said. “Instead, we carefully explained eligibility requirements and said if they knew they were qualified, they could get vaccinated. We built relationships and trusted them, and the honor system worked well.”

Altogether the Gyedi Project has hosted seven clinics, now using a hybrid approach of education, smaller monthly clinics and trusted referrals to nearby vaccination clinics. The experience and many learnings from hosting the vaccine clinics have further fueled Dr. Hazel’s commitment to health equity. “We are very interested in replicating this model and training health workers to become knowledge brokers in their own communities. It’s still important for COVID education, and also for understanding and filling other health literacy gaps for BIPOC, immigrant, and refugee communities.”

You can learn more about the efforts of Together We Protect grantees in the Vaccine Equity Fund Report.