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How Will the Rockefeller Fdn Make Vaccines More Accessible to POC?

The Rockefeller Foundation’s Equity-First Vaccination Initiative will collaborate with organizations across the U.S. to improve vaccination rates in communities of color. (Image credit: Rockefeller Foundation)

The Rockefeller Foundation announces the launch of a historic $20 million Equity-First Vaccination Initiative to improve the vaccination rate among communities of color, which have been disproportionately impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Representing less than one-third of the 74 million people who are now fully vaccinated in the United States, communities of color are twice as likely to die from Covid-19 and three times as likely to be hospitalized as white Americans. To close this gap, the Foundation will initially collaborate with five organizations to deploy equity-first, hyper-local public health interventions in five U.S. cities: Baltimore, Md.; Chicago, Ill.; Houston, Texas; Newark, N.J.; Oakland, Calif. During the second phase of the Initiative, the Foundation will collaborate with several national organizations to take lessons learned from the five cities and ensure that at least 70 million people of color are vaccinated by July 2021.

“Because of existing structural inequalities—including health care access, wealth gaps and systematic racism—people of color have been much more likely to both contract Covid-19 and die from this virus,” said Otis Rolley, Senior Vice President for the U.S. Equity and Economic Opportunity Initiative at The Rockefeller Foundation. “The Rockefeller Foundation is launching this initiative because a vaccination strategy that does not seek to directly combat inequities stands to further entrench them.”

Equity-First Models to Increase Access and Confidence

The Equity-First Vaccination Initiative will demonstrate and scale hyper-local, community-led programs to improve vaccine access and accurate information across five cities that represent 5 million of the nation’s 95 million adults of color. Learnings from the initiative will help inform strategies across the country to increase access to Covid-19 vaccinations in communities of color, contributing to a collective, national north star goal of ensuring at least 70 million people of color will be fully vaccinated by July 2021.

In this first phase of the initiative, the Foundation will provide grant funding to five anchor organizations: Open Society Institute-Baltimore, The Chicago Community Trust, Houston in Action, United Way of Greater Newark, and Roots Community Health Center in Oakland. These organizations will provide resources and additional support to over 100 community-based organizations (CBOs) that will then lead hyper-local community mobilization efforts to better address questions and concerns on when, why, and where to get the vaccine, increase vaccine access, and rollout additional community vaccination sites. In addition, the CBOs will also be connected with public health communications, dis/misinformation, and health marketing experts who will provide accurate, evidence-based information to improve their ability each to address questions and concerns about the Covid-19 vaccines.

An initial poll issued by HIT Strategies, with support from The Rockefeller Foundation, of people of color in the five U.S. cities found that while the majority of respondents (72 percent) want to get vaccinated when eligible, nearly two-thirds (63 percent) do not know how to get vaccinated. In addition, the poll confirmed systemic health issues facing people of color today: one in five respondents have trouble getting care when needed, felt disrespected when getting care, and see a doctor less than once a year.

“We want everyone to be confident in the safety and efficacy of the vaccines—but that will only happen if everyone has access to them,” said Greg Johnson, Managing Director for the Equity and Economic Opportunity Initiative at The Rockefeller Foundation. “People need to see the benefits to their friends, families and loved ones, and be able to get the vaccine from a provider and a place they trust.”

Best practices and impact-to-date from these equity-first models will be synthesized and shared nationally through cross-sector networks, advocacy efforts, convenings, and publications to ensure that the most effective solutions are actively adopted to effectively remove racial vaccination disparities:

  • Knowledge generation: The Foundation will surface barriers and promising solutions observed both nationwide and in our demonstration pilots.
  • Networks: The Foundation will regularly share data and learning with national networks, including the Pandemic Solutions Group (PSG) and the State and Territory Alliance on Testing, to crowd in support from other public, private, and civil society partners to scale models that work.
  • Advocacy: The Foundation will work alongside federal, state, and local governments to further expand awareness about the Initiative’s initial findings and impact as well as advocate for critical policies, targeted resources, and the use of new strategies and tools in order to reach 70 million people of color by July 2021.

Partner Organizations Piloting Equity-First Vaccination Models

These anchor organizations will expedite vaccinations in communities of color in the five cities.

  • Open Society Institute-Baltimore (OSI-Baltimore) will launch the Baltimore Equitable Vaccination Initiative to provide medically sound, culturally competent information about vaccine safety and improve distribution and delivery mechanisms to reach disconnected communities through pop-up vaccination sites and mobile clinics across the city. In addition, the Initiative will support resource hubs to assist in addressing access to health care, housing and other critical health-sustaining needs and advocate for systemic change that will address community infrastructure and social service needs to reduce health disparities. OSI-Baltimore will partner with a number of key anchor institutions, community-based organizations, and government agencies to ensure that disproportionately impacted communities, including black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) and low-wage essential workers, are adequately served.

    “The Rockefeller Foundation has been a key ally to Baltimore and OSI from the early days of Covid-19 when it helped to create Baltimore Health Corps, an initiative to recruit, train, and employ more than 300 residents who were jobless due the pandemic as contact tracers,” said Danielle Torain, Director of Open Society Institute-Baltimore. “We are proud to continue this partnership through the Baltimore Equitable Vaccination Initiative, which will ensure that communities have equitable access to the vaccines, information, and other resources.”
  • The Chicago Community Trust: Recognizing the need for all Chicagoans to be protected from Covid-19, The Chicago Community Trust will launch the Partnership for Equitable Vaccine Distribution. This effort will initially focus on 18 community areas in metropolitan Chicago and the suburbs within Cook County that have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Through localized communications campaigns led by trusted community leaders and community-led pilot distribution programs, The Chicago Community Trust seeks to ensure that all residents have access to science-based, community-informed communications about and access to vaccines. These efforts will be conducted in a way that also supports an economic recovery by strengthening underinvested public health infrastructure, promoting the local workforce, and using data to inform decisions. The goal of the collective effort is to ensure that rates of vaccine uptake across Chicago’s community areas and zip codes are comparable. Collaborating partners include the Chicago Department of Public Health, the Vaccine Corp Partnership, and Partners in Health.

    “The pandemic requires an all-hands-on-deck approach to ensure the Covid–19 vaccine reaches as many Chicagoans as possible,” said Dr. Helene D. Gayle, President and CEO of The Chicago Community Trust. “We are pleased to partner with The Rockefeller Foundation and Vaccine Corps Partnership to address vaccine hesitancy and uptake in the Chicago region’s Black and Latinx communities, which have been disproportionately affected, as it is the necessary approach to end this crisis.”
  • Houston in Action is co-designing and implementing hyper-localized approaches working with community partners, local government, and small businesses to establish and increase access to Covid-19 vaccinations in Houston-area neighborhoods with low income and low access to healthcare, and where Covid-19 poses the greatest threat to community health. The coalition is organizing community canvassing, phone and mobile campaigns tailored to each community. By supporting outreach to, and engagement of low-wage, BIPOC and women for Covid-19 vaccinations, Houston in Action also aims to create greater access to, and help to shape, health services for communities that historically have not had equitable access to healthcare.

    “Inequity runs deep in Houston; you can still see the scars of redlining across maps of our region when you begin to shade in the neighborhoods with toxic threats, food deserts, housing injustice, voter disenfranchisement, and where healthcare access is limited, workers’ wages are significantly lower, and where a growing number of climate disasters hit hardest,” said Frances Valdez, Executive Director of Houston in Action. “For folks experiencing these cumulative impacts, Covid-19 vaccination should be easy to reach and convenient, and that’s the work that Houston in Action members and partners have underway today with Safer Together: Equitable Vaccinations for All, a program made possible by The Rockefeller Foundation.”
  • United Way of Greater Newark (UWGN) will launch a public education campaign and vaccine education strategy to increase confidence in Covid-19 vaccines by partnering and providing resources to neighborhood organizations, public health entities, government stakeholders, and the faith-based community to deploy appropriate culturally competent vaccine information to BIPOC, women and hard to reach populations within the city of Newark. Additionally, UWGN will partner with community-based organizations and clinical partners throughout the city to deliver vaccines through a mobile vaccine strategy in hard-to-reach neighborhoods and with special populations, including the homeless, youth under 25 years who are aging out of foster care, and undocumented residents.

    “Equitable vaccine distribution has been a challenge throughout our country, but especially in majority Black and Brown communities that have historically suffered high poverty rates, poor educational outcomes and poor health outcomes as a result of systemic racism,” said Catherine Wilson, President & CEO of United Way of Greater Newark. “We’re excited to be partnering with The Rockefeller Foundation on this important initiative so we can continue working with our cross-sector partners to ensure members of our Newark community have the information they need to make informed decisions about the Covid-19 vaccine and the ability to access it when they are eligible.”
  • Roots Community Health Center will establish and operate accessible vaccine sites to reach low-wage, BIPOC, and women in Oakland, Calif. The program will activate a network of mobile medical clinics and pedestrian medical teams as well as partner with one of Oakland’s main safety net health institutions – Alameda Health System’s Highland Hospital.

    “For over a year now, Roots Community Health Center has been a trusted messenger, advocate, and resource for our East Oakland community in the fight against Covid-19,” said Dr. Noha Aboelata, CEO and Founder of Roots Community Health Center. “We’re proud to have adapted and expanded our services to meet the difficult challenges facing our community. We’ve entered a new stage of this pandemic – one where we’re providing vaccine education, advocating for accessibility, and empowering community members through doubts and fears regarding this process. We value The Rockefeller Foundation’s emphatic support as we begin this transition and look forward to celebrating a post-pandemic East Oakland.”

About The Rockefeller Foundation
The Rockefeller Foundation advances new frontiers of science, data, and innovation to solve global challenges related to health, food, power, and economic mobility. As a science-driven philanthropy focused on building collaborative relationships with partners and grantees, The Rockefeller Foundation seeks to inspire and foster large-scale human impact that promotes the well-being of humanity throughout the world by identifying and accelerating breakthrough solutions, ideas, and conversations. For more information, sign up for our newsletter at and follow us on Twitter @RockefellerFdn.

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