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Why barbershops may be the key to increasing COVID-19 vaccination rates

·Senior Producer and Writer
·3 min read
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President Biden has deemed June a “Month of Action” to get 70% of U.S. adults at least one COVID-19 shot by the Fourth of July.

The efforts include everything from free childcare to free beer to a visit this weekend from First Lady Jill Biden and Anthony Fauci to a vaccination clinic in Harlem.

Underrepresented populations are a big part of the Biden administration’s focus. And while confidence in COVID-19 vaccines has recently risen within communities of color, a way to keep closing the gap, officials think, is reaching people when they are getting their hair cut or styled.

A program called “Shots at the Shop” was announced this week with the idea of helping barbershops and beauty salons give their customers information and even helping the shops host vaccination events. 

“We've got to be focused on specific targets,” Dr. Reed Tuckson, co-founder of the Black Coalition Against COVID-19, told Yahoo Finance Live, referring to the effort. “We're done with the blanket messaging.” 

Stylist Dia Clyburn (L), the niece of U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, watches the televised inauguration of President Joe Biden with clients at Clyburn's Beauty Salon in Sumter, South Carolina, U.S. January 20, 2021. Picture taken January 20, 2021.  REUTERS/Micah Green
Clients at Clyburn's Beauty Salon in Sumter, South Carolina - including stylist Dia Clyburn (L), the niece of U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn - watch the inauguration of President Joe Biden in January. (REUTERS/Micah Green)

The initiative will be a partnership between the White House and Tuckson's coalition as well as the University of Maryland Center for Health Equity and SheaMoisture.

Tuckson said the goal is largely about combating disinformation. He notes that African American communities have a “hard-earned” skepticism based on a long history of the American government using Black populations for medical experimentation. At the same time, Tuckson said, the effort is even more difficult because “the organized anti-vaxxers are very good at what they're doing.”

According to the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data, 63% of U.S. adults have gotten at least one jab. The gaps in vaccination rates based on race and ethnicity are shrinking but still significant.

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It's where we transmit information

The Biden administration's effort has some precedents from the 2020 and even the 2008 campaign trail. During last year’s race, candidate Biden and his allies often stopped at Black-owned barbershops and even featured them in ads to search for votes.

DETROIT, MI - SEPTEMBER 22:  (L-R) Anthony Donald, Jr., owner of Headliners Barber Shop; the Reverend Wendell Anthony; Democratic U.S. vice presidential nominee, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA); and Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchirst talk during a campaign inititive dubbed Shop Talk  at Headliners Barber Shop on September 22, 2020 in Detroit, Michigan. Harris is making her first visit to Michigan since being tapped by Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden as his running mate.  (Photo by Elaine Cromie/Getty Images)
Kamala Harris during a campaign stop at a Michigan Barber Shop in 2020. (Elaine Cromie/Getty Images)

And way back during Barack Obama’s run for president in 2007, the Democrat sent young organizers to barbershops and beauty salons to gain support and combat misconceptions about the presidential candidates at the time.

“We spend a lot of time in beauty parlors and salons, not just to get our hair done, but because there are cultural institutions in our community” said Tuckson, adding “it's where we transmit information.”

The Black Coalition Against COVID-19 is composed of more than 40 groups, including Howard University, the National Urban League, and National Black Nurses Association.

Tuckson also highlighted the role of Shea Moisture, a beauty company that specializes in handcrafted shea butter. The company is offering $1 million to salons that register to join the effort. "I think it is now time for the private sector to partner with physicians and academics... [to] provide those kinds of incentives for them to be able to do what needs to be done to close out this last stage of the struggle,” he says.

Ben Werschkul is a writer and producer for Yahoo Finance in Washington, DC.

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