The Importance of Culturally Grounded, Data-Informed Efforts in Vaccine Distribution

Reaching Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders in Utah

In Utah, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (NHPI) communities have some of the highest infection, hospitalization, and death rates relative to their population. The same disturbing trend can be seen in other places such as California, Louisiana, and Washington state, and other states that disaggregate NHPI data from the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) category.

Recognizing the longstanding challenges that NHPI communities have faced, the Utah Pacific Islander Health Coalition (UPIHC), in partnership with several local health departments, like the Utah County Health Department, and the Utah State Health Department, mobilized early to begin hosting weekly vaccination clinics focused on increasing access to vaccinations for NHPI community members in a safe, trusting, and culturally affirming way. Many of the mobile vaccination clinic efforts aimed at reaching NHPI community members in Utah are coordinated partnerships through the UPIHC member network. The mobile vaccination clinics are tailored to create a space that is culturally grounded, and feels safe and comfortable for the NHPI community, which includes partnering with faith-based partners and hosting clinics in familiar locations. The partnership efforts between Utah’s local health departments (LHDs) and UPIHC has been a leading factor behind the distribution of 1,000’s of vaccines to the NHPI community throughout the State.

In this video, we are joined by Isabella Lesa, Community Health Worker with the Utah County Health Department and Jake Fitisemanu, Co-Founder and Board Member of the Utah Pacific Islander Coalition and Program Manager with the Utah State Department of Health, as they discuss the importance of disaggregated data and culturally grounded efforts in reaching NHPI community members in vaccine distribution.

Key Partners

  • Jake Fitisemanu, Co-Founder and Board Member for the Utah Pacific Islander Health Coalition & Program Manager, Utah State Department of Health
  • Isabella Lesa, Community Health Worker, Utah County Health Department

Key Funding Mechanisms


  • Lead organizers reached out through trusted messengers such as community-based organizations (CBOs) and faith-based groups such as the Church of Latter-Day Saints in order to disseminate information about COVID-19 vaccinations.
  • Vaccination clinics were hosted at trusted and familiar locations for the NHPI community, which included churches and Pacific Islander charter schools.
  • Messaging for the clinics emphasized that COVID-19 vaccines were free and available for everyone, regardless of whether they had health insurance or their immigration status.
  • Implemented low- to no-barriers for self-identification for the vaccination event.
  • Volunteers at the clinic represented the NHPI community and provided in-language greetings and support from the very first point of contact.
  • Leaders from the Latinx and NHPI community, two of the hardest hit communities in Utah, worked collaboratively to ensure that resources were equitably distributed.
  • Leaders worked to implement a “no wrong door approach” to remove as many barriers to vaccination as possible, which in some cases means if they receive phone calls after a clinic is full, they will work to try to find that person a vaccine at another event or location.
  • NHPI community leaders proactively reached out to federal retail partner pharmacies, such as Kroger and Walmart for additional doses to ensure they had adequate supply of vaccines to distribute to their communities.
  • Vaccination clinics were hosted at different times of the day to account for non-traditional work hours and other obligations people may have that may prevent them from getting vaccinated.
  • Some clinics offered food and swag bags to participants, as a way to create a culturally affirming and familiar space. Volunteers also used the 15 minute observation period post-vaccination to provide other wrap-around services and provide important health information.
  • The state has created an intake process where CBOs can apply to host a mobile vaccination clinic and include information about the population being served and the barriers to reaching that population.
  • NHPI community leaders used already disaggregated data available from the state and created a centralized place on the UPIHC website where information can be shared in a way that is informative and accessible for the community.
  • The State included NHPI COVID-19 indicators directly into the central response plan and therefore it was discussed weekly at the central response meetings.

Key Takeaways

  • Ensure the use of and availability of disaggregated data
  • Incorporate Pacific Islander data in central tables to ensure there is discussion and action steps being outlined to address community issues.
  • Ensure that voices from the NHPI community are represented and included at decision-making tables.
  • Identify ways to provide low- to no-barrier access to vaccines.
  • Think creatively and allow for flexibility to take proactive steps to ensure the adequate vaccine doses are available for the community.
  • Recognize the knowledge and expertise that is necessary to engage effectively and collaboratively with community and CBOs.