DHS investing $6.1 million to promote equity in COVID-19 vaccine program

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Photo by AP News

Story By Maya Reese
Local News Published 02/15/2021 6:46PM
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) Monday announced a $6.1 million investment to support community-based organizations in raising awareness and access to COVID-19 vaccine among communities that have faced both historical and current barriers to health care services and the COVID-19 vaccine. $3.1 million of the investment will fund efforts to activate organizations to serve as trusted messengers to build vaccine confidence and reduce barriers that may impede vaccinations in urban and rural areas. The remaining $3 million will supplement current vaccine equity work being done by Federally Qualified Health Centers, Aging and Disability Resource Centers, Family Health La Clinica, Minority Health Grantees, and United Way of Wisconsin 211.

“In just two months, we have vaccinated almost one million Wisconsinites with their first dose of the vaccine,” said Governor Tony Evers. “We need to continue our efforts and outreach to make sure to get as many Wisconsinites protected from COVID-19 as possible. By investing in trusted organizations to engage in strategic outreach, coordination, and vaccine education for racially and geographically diverse populations, we are better able to protect our communities that have been hit hardest by COVID-19.”

Applications for the grant program open February 15, and organizations that engage in work to reduce socioeconomic or health inequities across Wisconsin are encouraged to apply. This grant program aims to address these disparities by investing in organizations to provide culturally competent information to build vaccine confidence, reduce racial and geographic barriers that prevent people from accessing the COVID-19 vaccine, and to serve as trusted messengers in promoting the safety and efficacy of the vaccines. Applicants that demonstrate a commitment to addressing vaccine hesitancy and minimizing accessibility issues will be prioritized.

“COVID-19 vaccines are available in hundreds of places around the state every day, but people without easy access to the internet, or without an existing relationship with a healthcare provider, may not be aware of how to get vaccinated when they are eligible,” said DHS Interim Secretary Karen Timberlake. “We also know that some people may not trust information about the COVID-19 vaccine due to a history of racism and mistreatment experienced by many communities. This grant will help close gaps in access to information and address some of those drivers of vaccine hesitancy by investing in partners that are in the best positions to promote vaccination efforts in their communities.”

Due to various social factors and systemic barriers, communities of color have experienced higher rates of infection, hospitalizations, and death during this pandemic. In Wisconsin, as well as nationwide, COVID-19 vaccine data shows rates of vaccinations have been disproportionately lower for Black, Indigenous, Hispanic, and other underserved populations. In addition to this $6.1 million grant program, DHS has been taking action to address these stark inequities by prioritizing vaccine orders for our vaccine partners that serve traditionally underserved communities, as well as supporting efforts through mobile vaccination teams, community-based clinics, and the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program to close gaps in vaccine access. To ensure as many Wisconsinites as possible have the opportunity to learn about the COVID-19 vaccine and preventative measures, DHS also provides COVID-19 and vaccine resources in multiple languages.

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