Step onto campus at a historically Black college or university (HBCU), and these are just a few of the things you’ll see. This fall, Walgreens added one more to the list, a mobile vaccine clinic, as it brought walk-up access to COVID-19 vaccines and a new kind of educational opportunity—information on combatting vaccine hesitancy—to 17 HBCUs.
From Cheyney University in Pennsylvania—the first HBCU, created in 1837—to thousands of miles west in Los Angeles—home to California’s only HBCU, the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science—America has more than 100 HBCUs coast-to-coast. Most of them, however, are concentrated in the South, which is where Walgreens focused its latest mobile tour.
“HBCUs play an important role in this country,” says Carlos Cubia, senior vice president and global chief diversity officer, Walgreens Boots Alliance. “We wanted to make sure we were doing our part to provide some of the tools and resources HBCU students need to get through this pandemic. HBCUs help us make important, lasting connections with communities that are sometimes overlooked, underserved and underrepresented.”
As a member of the HBCU Partnership Challenge, Walgreens joins other organizations working to promote greater engagement and support between HBCUs and private businesses. In collaboration with school administrations and faculty members, the Walgreens mobile clinic set up at various HBCU events, such as classic football games and outdoor student gatherings held on campus grounds. The tour made 17 stops in rural towns such as Pine Bluff, Arkansas—home of the UAPB Golden Lions—and metropolises such as Atlanta, where Walgreens joined forces with Morehouse College in support of a vaccination event.
Although HBCUs are integral to the landscape of higher education, many of the schools also serve as gateways to important programs and services for their surrounding neighborhoods. This was the case for several stops, which attracted community members as well as students.
“Like Howard University, many HBCUs are in communities of color,” says Dr. Anthony Wutoh, pharmacist, provost and chief academic officer at Howard University in Washington, D.C. “Historically, we have not only served as educational destinations, but also as sources for factual information. This is the case for Howard, and HBCUs around the country are serving in similar roles, whether they’re in South Carolina, Texas, Florida or Mississippi.”
Deeply rooted in incorporating Black history into college education, HBCUs continue to attract generations of students drawn by their strong sense of family and familiarity. Students are exposed to faculty who look like them, smaller class sizes and, for some, the experience of joining a marching band or a historically Black fraternity or sorority—all of which work to inspire lasting kinship. Such characteristic distinctions are also reasons that make the HBCU community pivotal in addressing concerns about the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines. It’s a community forged by shared experiences that have fused bonds of trust.
“Being at an HBCU is honestly a lot like having a second family,” says Lauren Lowe, senior at Howard University and current undergraduate president for Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority’s Alpha Chapter. “It’s intimate, and we all know each other. The teachers know your name and are willing to help when they know you need help. Being a part of a community of people who all have common goals and similar struggles gives me a boost of confidence because we all lift each other up.”
Overall, U.S. vaccination rates have recently increased among both Hispanic and Black adults, however, both groups still remain less likely to have received a vaccine. Hesitancy stemming from medical mistrust or misinformation, and other social determinants of health, continue to contribute to disparities in vaccinations among the Black community especially.
“We want to advocate for as many people getting vaccinated as possible because we understand that it is going to be one of the most significant ways we can decrease hospitalizations, and ultimately, decrease deaths from this horrible disease,” says Dr. Wutoh. “Walgreens has been a significant partner not only because of the health information they provide, but also because of the significant resources they have applied to their mobile clinic efforts. It’s needed. It’s appreciated. And it’s truly remarkable.”
Watch more highlights of the recent Walgreens HBCU mobile clinic tour.