RECOVER Project to Expand Access to COVID-19 Vaccination in U.S. 

Economically, socially marginalized communities focus of joint efforts nationwide 

Posted on Nov 1, 2021

David Guitierrez, from the CityGate Dream Center, circulates on his paleta bike, offering ice cream bars at various Covid-19 vaccine events around North Carolina.
David Guitierrez from the CityGate Dream Center, circulates on his paleta bike, offering ice cream bars at various Covid-19 vaccine events around North Carolina. Pictured here with Dancers from Huepa Culture and Arts Institute. Photo: Kina Johnson, CityGate Dream Center

A key goal of Partners In Health United States is to help strengthen and expand the network of community-based organizations carrying out the day-to-day work of supporting the health and well-being of people living in economically and socially marginalized regions. The importance of this on-the-ground work has been highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it remains central to building healthy communities for the future.

To that end, PIH-US applied for and was recently awarded $11.1 million from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to invest in community-based organizations -- some already focused on public health while others were not involved directly -- to help more people in hard-hit communities get vaccinated. More broadly, the work is intended to help close the race and income gaps in vaccination laid bare by COVID-19, and advance health equity overall.

We spoke with Project Director Dr. Wilfrid Cadet, Deputy Director Annie Zhou, and Coordinator Alicia Krewer, members of the PIH-US team overseeing the HRSA project (officially called Reaching Equity through Community-based Vaccination Engagement and Resourcing or RECOVER) to find out more about this important work.

What is PIH-US’s role in this project?

PIH-US is unlocking access to federal funding for many of our partner organizations for the first time and supporting organizations in managing the funds according to federal requirements. These funds support frontline vaccine education and outreach for vulnerable communities, and our learning team provides the latest scientific research and best practices related to COVID-19 response. Big picture, we are working to make connections between community-based organizations to further learning and collaboration.

What's the overall aim here?

First, we are helping to spark the mobilization of local, community-based outreach workers who can pave the way for more people to gain easier access to COVID-19 vaccines. To do this, we’ve invested in training this community-based workforce; developing much more accessible and culturally aware health education materials; and trying to address and eliminate every possible barrier that might prevent someone from getting vaccinated, from scheduling and appointment issues to translation and transportation support. Taken together this is what we mean when we talk about equitable vaccine outreach.

A key to achieving equity here involves tapping into the underused, but critical, community-based workforce. These are folks who grew up and live in the communities they serve and are deeply knowledgeable about the defining cultures and customs. These local health workers are trusted messengers, and our hope is that as they reduce barriers, and address hesitation, vaccine uptake will increase. Each of our partner communities was selected because of their populations’ social vulnerability, paying close attention to the percentage of residents who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color, and the number of residents living below the federal poverty line. That’s no accident—those are the people we want to support and build up during the lifespan of this project. We also try to tighten the collaboration between state and county health departments and community-based organizations to strengthen support for marginalized populations.

Where are the participating community-based organizations located?

They’re located across the country, including at sites where we already have work underway: New Bedford, Mass.; Newark, N.J.; North Carolina; Immokalee, Fla., Montgomery, Ala.; Chicago, Ill.; Navajo Nation; and Pima County, Ariz. Through partner organizations, we are also conducting outreach activities across Los Angeles, California; New Orleans, Louisiana; Washington D.C.; Baltimore, Maryland; Maine; and Ohio.

Can you talk about some of the various efforts underway?

The community-based organizations we work with are engaged in hyperlocal approaches that meet people where they are. Our partners have hosted “Back to School” vaccine forums; supported outreach workers traveling to Tennessee, Virginia, and New Jersey to provide “Know Your Rights” training, including COVID-19 and vaccination information, to hundreds of tomato farmworkers; teamed up with Uber to reduce language and transport barriers to getting vaccinated; distributed 9,000 masks and vaccine education materials at Seventh Day Adventist Church of New Orleans; and sponsored Facebook and Instagram Live events sharing information on the Delta variant as well as personal vaccine experiences in Washington, D.C.

The community-based organizations have used a variety of supports and incentives to improve the vaccination experience: from offering gift cards and food at events to providing childcare. One group in North Carolina, called “Helping All People Excel,” found that conducting vaccine information sessions in the break room of a local manufacturer was particularly effective; people felt comfortable at their workplace and asked a ton of questions. This community-based organization also found that providing candy at outreach events is an incredibly effective motivator to get children and parents to approach them to learn more about the vaccines.

What’s the long-term vision, and what do you expect will be the greatest impact from this investment?

In the short term, we hope to reach 700,000 with accurate, accessible information about the COVID-19 vaccines. Additionally, we hope to leverage the current activities for longer-term impact by highlighting the importance of community health workers in the public health infrastructure, building capacity in historically underserved communities by funding community-based organizations to implement locally identified solutions, and connecting them to other like-minded organizations locally and nationally. We hope that this work elevates the influence of community-based organizations and positions them for future longer-term funding opportunities. Each of these organizations has proven that the people they serve are their priority; we hope that investing HRSA funds in this way helps our partner organizations to advocate for robust, long-lasting support for their communities.

 

Note: This project is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of an award totaling $11,169,572. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by HRSA, HHS, or the U.S. Government. For more information, please visit HRSA.gov.

 

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