Delivering shots, information: Local groups awarded equity grants for vaccine outreach

MADISON, Wis. – Organizations across the state are receiving financial help to get underserved communities a fair shot at COVID-19 protection.

Health officials have noted disparities in vaccine distribution in groups such as some living rurally and communities of color.

As of Thursday, Wisconsin Department of Health statistics show 29.4% of white people in the state have gotten at least one shot compared to 19.6% of American Indian people, 19.2% of Asian people and 12.2% of Black people. The data shows 30.1% of non-Hispanic people have gotten one dose, while 14.1% of Hispanic people have.

DHS announced the 100 organizations across the state receiving a portion of the $6.2 million in grants that are intended to increase equitable vaccine distribution. More than a dozen are based in Dane County.

Today, Wisconsin Department of Health Services announced $6.2 million in grants will be awarded to a hundred…

Posted by Public Health Madison & Dane County on Thursday, April 1, 2021

“The investment aims to increase vaccinations by supporting organizations to serve as trusted messengers within their communities, build vaccine confidence, and reduce barriers that hinder vaccine access for marginalized or underserved populations,” a DHS media release said.

Bringing information, shots to communities

Just as important as distributing shots is delivering information in the efforts to get everyone vaccinated.

“It’s important so that we can all be safe,” said Jeff Burkhart, executive director of the Literacy Network of Dane County. “I think it’s vital.”

A $13,000 grant from the state will help the Literacy Network weave vaccine information into their curriculum.

“It’s really giving us more staff hours to do that kind of work,” Burkhart said.

April 1, 2021 – Today, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services announced that Literacy Network of Dane County has…

Posted by Literacy Network on Thursday, April 1, 2021

Burkhart recently surveyed students, finding that about 40% have questions about the vaccine.

“We work with mostly English language learners in our program. Information about vaccines has been very complex, to say the least,” he said. “We know that adults with lower literacy skills are more vulnerable to COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation.”

The strongest predictor of someone’s health status is literary skills, Burkhart said, adding that an estimated 36% of Americans have poor health literacy skills.

“Of course, minorities are disproportionately affected by a lack of health literacy,” he said.

The African American Health Network of Dane County requested $48,000 from DHS. As another grant recipient, the nonprofit is working with partners such as churches and community centers to bring education and vaccines directly to community members.

“You meet with us, you can be vaccinated right on the spot,” AAHN Chair Eva Vivian said. “Transportation is a major issue for many people in Madison. By taking the vaccine to the community, we increase the likelihood of individuals being vaccinated.”

She noted that AAHN members are well-trusted within the community.

“Within the African American community, there are so many myths about this virus,” Vivian said. “We can actually dispel a lot of the myths around this vaccine.”

The SSM Health St. Mary’s Foundation, awarded $100,000 in grant money, will do proactive outreach with communities that are falling behind in vaccinations, planning to work with community leaders to come up with new solutions.

“We are committed as an organization to address any and all disparities that exist,” SSM Health Regional President Damond Boatwright said, adding that that means thinking outside the box.

“The grant is very helpful to get us outside the four walls of our traditional hospitals and clinics and move those clinics closer to communities we need to serve best,” Boatwright said. “That may mean in some cases a mobile clinic, literally on the road, with the vaccine itself in a mobile van going to different churches, maybe different restaurants.”

SSM Health has already been using a mobile vaccine clinic model, heading to school districts and employers. Its 14 mobile clinics so far have provided more than 8,600 shots.

The Boys & Girls Club of Dane County is getting about $80,000 to do its part in getting the word out.

“You still gotta educate young people. Their time will come,” Boys & Girls Club President and CEO Michael Johnson said. “We were going to try to do our best to help educate and lift up the voices of young people in this community, whether we got this grant or not …. Because of their support, it’s going to make it a little easier.”

Johnson said they’re planning a vaccine virtual town hall meeting and are asking young people to create PSAs. The club is also working with Fitchburg Family Pharmacy and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Pharmacy to host a vaccine clinic in the coming days, focusing on underserved areas of the community.

“Hundreds of thousands of people have passed away this year, and we have to do everything we can to protect, educate ourselves,” Johnson said. “That’s why we’re running a full campaign to do our best to educate kids and families about the vaccine.”

The full list of grant recipients and their plans can be found here.