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Ingrid Johansen: Minnesota nurse on a mission to vaccinate diverse populations

She uses a longtime model that involves strong relationships with community partnerships and a commitment to “show up and stay.”

MINNEAPOLIS — As more doses are delivered to Minnesota, there's a real need to target diverse groups of people hesitant to get the vaccine. There's a local nurse who's leading the way. 

Ingrid Johansen is a longtime nurse at M Health Fairview. She is also the manager of Clinical Care and Outreach and Director of the Minnesota Immunization Networking Initiative (MINI). MINI is a 15-year-old community collaborative led by Fairview and supported by over 100 community partners. 

"We've been vaccinating with these groups for years and that really enabled us to move fast and bring this service out," Johansen said, who joined the MINI program over 10 years ago as a volunteer vaccinator. 

MINI usually brings free flu shots to BIPOC communities, until it pivoted during the pandemic. Johansen recently starting setting up small COVID-19 vaccination clinics in Spanish-speaking communities and predominately Black churches. 

"People have been very historically poorly treated in health care and so going into a clinic is not a comfortable experience for some people, whereas receiving that service in their trusted space feels much more acceptable and safe," Johansen explained. 

She partners with more than a dozen community organizations like the Islamic Center of Minnesota, Hmong Healthcare Professionals and St. Mary's Health Clinics to name a few to break down language, technology and trust barriers to ensure vaccine is distributed equitably and safely. It's a model that's so successful the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asked her to speak at a national forum this week to help others replicate it.

"It's very rewarding and it keeps you going, even though it is 7 days a week, 10 to 12 hour days every day," Johansen said.

At the MINI clinics, Johansen says her team, along with those partners, vaccinated about 5,000 eligible people since the beginning of January.  

"That's just all really affirming and that's what gives us our energy right now," she said.

The Department of Health also has data that shows Minnesotans of color are more likely to catch the coronavirus. For example, African Americans make up about 6% of the population, but at one point, accounted for 17% of infections.

 

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