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Vaccine Equity through Community Groups

Just over two years ago the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccines were administered to frontline healthcare workers. From the early stages of vaccine rollout, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene developed plans to partner with community-based organizations (CBOs), encouraging them to hold conversations about vaccination in their communities and to develop culturally relevant vaccine messaging to boost vaccine confidence. 

FPHNYC quickly mobilized the philanthropic community to help support these efforts through the Vaccine Equity Partner Engagement Project (VEPE). Combining public and private funding, VEPE engages community and faith-based organizations (CBO/FBOs) as outreach partners for reaching people in neighborhoods identified by the Taskforce on Racial Inclusion & Equity (TRIE) as those most impacted by COVID-19. These neighborhoods also have a history of disinvestment and other disparities impacting health and well-being.  CBO/FBOs have also been crucial partners in the Health Department’s efforts to combat vaccine misinformation by disseminating accurate information through leaders and representatives trusted by local communities. 

Black Health Tweet

Black Health is an example of a CBO/FBO which developed a COVID-19 outreach and education program incorporating faith and community-based organizations and youth ambassadors. Recognizing that COVID-19 health outcomes are often contingent upon one’s health status, Black Health focused its wellness outreach, education, and resource distribution efforts to include COVID-19 testing and vaccinations at its health hub locations in Bronx, Brooklyn, and Manhattan.

Efforts by CBO/FBOs like Black Health have greatly narrowed the vaccination gap between communities in New York City. There have been positive changes in vaccination rates in over 96% of zip codes served by the VEPE’s CBO partners between March 2022 (when disaggregated data became available) and October 2022. In fact, concerted outreach to NYC Housing Authority (NYCHA) residents by CBOs in 2022 brought the vaccination rate for NYCHA residents above the city-wide average.

Along with launching VEPE, FPHNCY provides administrative and program management for The NYC Public Health Corps (PHC), a city-wide effort to expand the public health workforce by partnering with community groups. The PHC is active in over 75 NYC Zip Codes and since September 2021, it has connected more than 1,057,577 people to vaccination sites. 

Moreover, according to research published in JAMA Network Open, every $1 invested in New York City’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign yielded, “…an estimated $10.19 in cost savings from lower infection and mortality rates, fewer productivity losses, and averted health care use.” Quantitative an qualitative evidence of how New York City’s targeted vaccine efforts to reach traditionally underserved communities appears is discussed in NEJM Catalyst.

The impact of VEPE and the PHC extends beyond numbers and statistics. The NYC Community Voices: COVID-19 and Beyond project makes available firsthand experiences of COVID-19 vaccine confidence and community resilience from communities served by the PHC. At the project’s online portal, anyone can listen to the real voices of community members as they describe their experiences with COVID-19, community, and vaccination, as well as view the analysis of common themes present in the 850+ highlights from these conversations. The fear and frustration of the COVID-19 pandemic are evident, but so too is an appreciation of the progress made to protect communities and allow people to find new hope. 

Sharing his thoughts with the Community Voices project, Mohammed from Queens said, “I feel like if there was another pandemic in the future, we’d be better equipped in this situation.” 

For an in-depth review of NYC’s public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic, see this discussion paper at the National Academy of Medicine website.