In this politically polarized time, White House health officials have acknowledged that they are not always the best messengers when it comes to promoting COVID-19 vaccines.
So the Biden administration has worked to equip community groups to do their own local outreach.
On Tuesday, the Health Resources and Services Administration is distributing $66.5 million to community groups working in 38 states and in Washington, D.C. This is the fourth round of the $250 million in funding allocated in the American Rescue Plan.
“Whether that trusted messenger is your schoolteacher or your pastor or your barber, what we want is for those people to guide you on this very important decision and encourage you to take the steps you need to take to stay safe from COVID,” Health Secretary Xavier Becerra tells NPR. “The program that we’re announcing this week is to provide additional resources to trusted voices in our communities throughout the country so that they can reach folks.”
“We know there are still millions of Americans who need to be vaccinated, and millions of those Americans are willing to be vaccinated, so we want to reach them,” he adds.
One group receiving more than $11 million Tuesday is Communities RISE Together, an initiative supported by the Public Health Institute. Dr. Somava Saha, who co-leads the effort, says the administration’s decision to fund local community groups is smart and “flips it from ‘trust us’ to ‘we trust you.'”
Saha says RISE’s successes in the past seven months since it first received funding proves that the approach is effective: The coalition of community groups has been able to connect about 160,000 people to services like food and housing and mental health support and has vaccinated more than 137,800 people, she says, adding that there are “probably a few hundred thousand more that have gotten vaccinations elsewhere as a result of [outreach] efforts.”
The racial disparities in COVID-19 vaccinations have narrowed since the initial gaps at the beginning of the rollout, according to a recent analysis from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.
Samantha Artiga, director of the Racial Equity and Health Policy Program at KFF, notes that the highly contagious delta and omicron variants may have spurred more people to get vaccinated, but that outreach efforts focused on equity and making the logistics easier likely helped as well.
This story originally appeared in the Morning Edition live blog.