HYATTSVILLE, Md. – Reginald Alson received a surprising phone call from his childhood friend Monday morning.
“I signed you up to get the vaccine,” Katrina Randolph, 52, told him. She owns Tré Shadez hair studio in Capitol Heights, Maryland, where Alson sweeps hair.
As a certified community health care worker, Randolph had been trying to persuade her friend of 40 years to get his COVID-19 shot. But unnervingstories Alson, 57, heard from friends and family kept him from making his own appointment.
So Randolph took matters into her own hands when she heard The Shop Spa in nearbyHyattsville was offering free COVID-19 vaccines through the University of Maryland’s Health Advocates In-Reach and Research (HAIR). Alson agreed to go after Randolph, whose salon is part of the initiative, promised to go withhim.
“If they went up with them like Katrina did out here, I think everybody would come out here and get a shot like that,” Alson said. “She reads up on everything. She would never steer me wrong.”
For about two decades, The Shop Spa has been a mainstay in thecommunity where Black, Hispanic and Latino people make up about two-thirds of residents, according to U.S. Census estimates. It’s part of a network of 10 Black hair salons and barbershops in Prince George’s County that public health practitioners and researchers have transformed into health and wellness intervention hubs aiming to fight health disparities.
As vaccination rates in communities of color hit hard by COVID-19 lag in many states, the network is combating vaccine hesitancy by leveraging the trust Black communities have in the salons by offering shots right at the shops.
“This is Mom-and-Pop, Mr. Smith on the corner, been there 20 years kind of thing,” said Stephen Thomas, who directs the program and the University of Maryland’s Center for Health Equity. “They might not have Ph.Ds behind their name or MDs behind their name, but they have tremendous influence, tremendous trust and trustworthiness.”
During Monday afternoon’s event, clients flowed in and out of the barbershop. Staff welcomed people at the shop’s entrance, marked by colorful balloons, then escorted them to one of the black leather chairs where they usually sit once or twice a week to get a fresh cut.
Health care workers registered them with iPads, then sent them to the back of the shop to get vaccinated. After receiving the vaccine, clients were led to an outdoor observation area where they sat socially distanced in chairs for 15 minutes in case of a reaction.
Before leaving, staff members gave everyone a“barber buck,” a coupon for a haircut and a free fish sandwich from the food stand behind the shop.