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St. Louis Health Officials To Distribute COVID-19 Vaccines At Black Barber Shops

Kamikaze Kutz barber shop owner and operator Michelle Ross cuts a customer's hair. She said reaching out to salons and barber shops could be an effective way to reach out to the community and to get people vaccinated.
Chad Davis
St. Louis Public Radio
Kamikaze Kutz barber shop owner and operator Michelle Ross cuts a customer's hair. She said giving people the COVID-19 vaccine at salons and barber shops could be an effective way to boost vaccination efforts in Black neighborhoods.

Barber and beauty shops in Black St. Louis neighborhoods will soon play a key role in the push to persuade more people to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Shots at the Shop, a national initiative of the Biden administration, will ask barbers and beauticians to help inform people in their communities that the vaccine can save lives. St. Louis health officials will hold vaccination events at participating businesses, said Dr. Fred Echols, the city's acting health director.

“The goal is to make sure as many people in our jurisdictions are aware of the need for COVID-19 vaccinations, and the role that vaccines can play in just saving lives,” Echols said.

Barbershop owners will complete training sessions and receive marketing materials and fact sheets about the virus and the vaccine to display in their shops. Shops will then be eligible to hold vaccination clinics, at which medical personnel will administer the shots, Echols said.

Interested barber and beauty shops can register through the department, which plans to enlist at least 10 shops for vaccination events. Up to 1,000 shops across the country will receive a $1,000 grant from the natural hair styling company, SheaMoisture.

The Biden administration also is working with the Black Coalition Against COVID and the University of Maryland Center for Health Equity.

Barbers say it makes sense to partner with barber shops and salons, which are gathering spaces in the community.

“It’s more people going into barber shops every day than they go into clinics,” said Terrelle Sawyer, a barber at Kamikaze Kutz on Dr. Martin Luther King Drive in the Ville neighborhood of north St. Louis. “I think it’ll be a good idea that somebody can be walking past the barber shop and want to get a shot. That’s a very nice thing because that corona, it took a lot of people out.”

Kamikaze Kutz owner and operator Michelle Ross said she's had some reservations about the vaccine but believes reaching out to shops will be effective in getting more people vaccinated. She said her shop has worked with the city on public health initiatives before, including HIV prevention programs.

“The African American community isn't getting vaccinated at the rate that they would like us to, so why not go to the heart of the community, which is the barber shops and the salons,” Ross said. “I think we relate to the community better than the news or any other media source, so you can trust us more.”

St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones said in a statement that the effort aims to bring vaccines to people where they feel comfortable. "Over 70% of new COVID-19 cases in the past month have been in Black communities,” Jones said in a statement. “My administration is working diligently to reach unvaccinated residents where they are at.”

Missouri is seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations as the Delta variant spreads in parts of southwest Missouri. The variant is more contagious than others. Echols said he hopes the partnerships will show that the vaccine is safe and crucial to help protect people as the virus continues to spread.

“It’s more likely to cause severe complications, such as hospitalizations, and including death,” Echols said. “We just want to make sure we're doing everything in our power to make sure that our community is well informed, and [that] they're making the right decision as relates to COVID-19 vaccinations.”

Follow Chad on Twitter @iamcdavis

Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.