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Community Health Worker Perspectives on Engaging Unhoused Peer Ambassadors for COVID-19 Vaccine Outreach in Homeless Encampments and Shelters



COVID-19 vaccination is a priority for people experiencing homelessness. However, there are barriers to vaccine access driven in part by mistrust towards clinicians and healthcare. Community health workers (CHWs) and Peer Ambassadors (PAs) may be able to overcome mistrust in COVID-19 vaccine outreach. An unhoused PA program for COVID-19 vaccine outreach by CHWs was implemented in Los Angeles using a participatory academic-community partnership.


The purpose of this study was to evaluate CHW perspectives on an unhoused PA COVID-19 vaccine outreach program in Los Angeles.


This study used a participatory community conference and qualitative focus groups to understand CHW perspectives on the PA program. The one-day conference was held in November 2021.


Of the 42 conference participants, 19 CHWs participated in focus groups for two-way knowledge exchange between CHWs and researchers.


Four focus groups were held during the conference, with 4-6 CHWs per group. Each group had a facilitator and two notetakers. Focus group notes were then analyzed using content analysis to derive categories of findings. CHWs reviewed the qualitative analysis to ensure that findings represented their experiences with the PA program.

Key results

The five categories of findings from focus groups were as follows: (1) PAs were effective liaisons to their peers to promote COVID-19 vaccines; (2) CHWs recognized the importance of establishing genuine trust and equitable working relationships within CHW/PA teams; (3) there were tradeoffs of integrating unhoused PAs into the existing CHW workflow; (4) CHWs had initial misgivings about the research process; and (5) there were lingering questions about the ethics of "exploiting" the invaluable trust unhoused PAs have with unhoused communities.


CHWs were in a unique position to empower unhoused PAs to take a leadership role in reaching their peers with COVID-19 vaccines and advocate for long-term employment and housing needs.

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