Beneath Our Skin: COVID 19 Vaccination Storytelling in Vermont

Beneath Our Skin: COVID 19 Vaccination Storytelling in Vermont

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For Immediate Release: June 14, 2022

Media Contacts:

Ben Truman, Vermont Department of Health
802-316-2117 / 802-863-7281
[email protected]

Lydia Clemmons, Clemmons Family Farm
[email protected]  

Beneath Our Skin: COVID 19 Vaccination Storytelling in Vermont
Unique digital project provides insights into Black Vermonters’ perceptions of Covid-19 vaccinations and access

BURLINGTON, VT – The Vermont Department of Health has partnered with the Charlotte-based Clemmons Family Farm, an African American-led nonprofit organization whose mission and expertise includes integrating the arts and storytelling into public health, K-12 education and community-building, for an innovative approach to gather information about the perceptions and motivations among Black Vermonters about getting – or not getting – COVID-19 vaccinations. 

The unprecedented scope of the COVID-19 pandemic has touched nearly every Vermonter and led to the state mobilizing the most comprehensive public health response in nearly a century.

However, the experience of the past two and a half years has also underscored public health disparities that are rooted in systemic and historical inequities – disparities that have contributed to higher rates of COVID-related illness, hospitalizations and gaps in vaccination uptake among certain Vermont populations. Here and nationally, the data shows that the burden has fallen hardest on people who are Black and of African descent, as well as Native Americans/Indigenous peoples.

As part of the immediate and long-term efforts to address the impact of health disparities, the Health Department has been working with community partners to build a shared understanding of needs and perceptions related to improving COVID-19 vaccination access and uptake.

One of the programs nearing completion is a unique COVID-19 vaccination communication project called “Beneath Our Skin,” developed and led by Clemmons Family Farm, with funding support from the Health Department.

Beneath Our Skin uses digital storytelling and visual and performing arts as culturally relevant methods to gather and share stories from Black Vermonters about their vaccination choices and experiences. The project also looks at attitudes, perceptions and care-giving behaviors among health care providers who are involved in delivering COVID-19 vaccinations.

“The Beneath Our Skin project provides safe spaces for Black Vermonters to share their COVID-19 vaccination experiences,” said Dr. Lydia Clemmons, president and executive director of Clemmons Family Farm. “The project uses an innovative approach that blends oral storytelling with visual art, music, or poetry. The rich stories communicate Black Vermonters’ thoughts, feelings and experiences about getting vaccinated—or not—in the context of the social upheaval we have all been experiencing over the past two year.

Clemmons explained that the stories and art are powerful ways to help everyone to better understand Black Americans’ often traumatic, intergenerational relationship with the health system. “What we have learned through this project is that giving time to unpack and share out these experiences is the first step toward building trust with the health system and improving the way health services are delivered,” Clemmons said. 

An interim report submitted in March of this year found that the spaces created by this project have offered meaningful opportunities to Black participants as they process their experiences.

“Throughout the pandemic, our experiences working with the many diverse populations that make up Vermont have helped us to better understand how gaps in our cultural understanding can impact individual and public health,” said Health Commissioner Mark Levine, MD. “This partnership with the talented Clemmons team, as well as similar creative efforts with other partners, offers the opportunity for us to gain valuable insights that will, in turn, help us to further reduce health disparities, increase vaccination access and uptake, and improve the health of all people in Vermont.”

Vermonters can see the current and future arts-integrated stories by visiting the Clemmons Family Farm site beneathourskin.org.

Additional information about this program is available at healthvermont.gov/beneath-our-skin.

Learn more about what Vermont is doing to promote health equity and to address public health disparities: healthvermont.gov/health-equity.

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About the Clemmons Family Farm
Clemmons Family Farm is an African American-led Vermont nonprofit organization working in collaboration with a growing network of Vermont's artists and culture bearers of African descent to mobilize the arts for community well-being. Learn more at: clemmonsfamilyfarm.org  and at facebook.com/ClemmonsFarm

About the Department of Health
We have been the state's public health agency for more than 130 years, working every day to protect and promote the health of Vermonters. Visit healthvermont.gov — Join us on Facebook — Follow us on Twitter