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Hastings Center News

Relational Public Health: Pandemic Policies that Support Health Equity

Federally Qualified Health Centers—federally funded nonprofit primary care centers—were critical points of access for underserved patients during the Covid pandemic, administering 61% of their Covid vaccinations to people of color, compared with the 40% rate for the overall U.S. vaccination effort. What can they teach us about pandemic policies that support health equity?

An analysis drawing from semi-structured interviews with care providers and outreach workers at these centers argues that an ethic rooted in relationship-building is an essential part of an equitable pandemic response. The analysis was reported in a recent article by Hastings Center research associate Danielle Pacia; Johanna Crane of the Alden March Bioethics Institute in Albany, N.Y.; Hastings research scholar Carolyn P. Neuhaus; Hastings senior research scholar Nancy Berlinger; and Rachel Fabi of SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, N.Y. 

The authors highlighted three key insights that can help advance health equity in future pandemic policies.

  • Prioritizing relationship-building can generate trust in public health interventions.
  • A good public health system must acknowledge inequities and seek to correct them.
  • Solidarity is a necessary but underutilized value in U.S. public health.

Elaborating on the last point, the authors write that community health centers fostered solidarity during the Covid pandemic with strategies that prioritized vulnerable populations. For example, one community health center had a program that involved visiting farms to help reserve vaccines for migrant workers.

“Such an approach can be used as an inspiration and example of the potential that broader U.S. public health plans can achieve when meaningfully partnering with and supporting their patient community,” the authors conclude.

The article appears in the Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics. It was supported by the Gil Omen and Martha Darling Fund for Trusted and Trustworthy Scientific Innovation.