Effort to boost vaccination rates gets funding

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The Finger Lakes Performing Provider System is spearheading an urgent move to boost vaccination rates among high-need minority groups in the region and poor communities in rural Upstate New York. The agency recently was awarded a $1 million grant to take action.

The grant will mobilize community health workers, patient navigators, and social support specialists to educate and assist people with access to COVID-19 vaccines. Roughly 12 full-time community health navigators and outreach workers will be hired to deploy the project.

The funding was made available by the American Rescue Plan and is being distributed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, through the Health Resources and Services Administration. FLPPS is tasked with administering the grant. 

Established in 2014 to improve the health care delivery for the Medicaid population, FLPPS is a network of health and human services providers across Allegany, Cayuga, Chemung, Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Orleans, Seneca, Steuben, Wayne, Wyoming and Yates counties.

On the vaccine project, FLPPS will partner with Human Service Development, Ibero-American Action League, MC Collaborative, Father Tracy Advocacy Center, Ardent Solutions, Western NY Coalition of Farmworker Serving Agencies and S2AY Rural Health Network. Along with Common Ground Health, FLPPS will oversee program delivery, working with regional vaccine hubs in its 13-county region.

“The community health navigators/outreach workers who will be chosen for this project are members of the community in which they will do outreach,” says Carol Tegas, executive director of FLPPS. “They are part of the target population and have outgoing and likeable personalities that enable them to quickly and easily establish rapport and engage with their neighbors and friends in a trusting manner.”

In addition to culturally responsive outreach and education efforts, these workers plan to go to various locations including street festivals, laundromats, churches and bus stops. They will also go to college campuses, areas where the homeless spend time and walk the streets of the inner city.

Tegas believes both access and vaccine hesitancy concerns need to be addressed. She points to Common Ground Health’s Vaccine Hesitancy and Access Survey a few months ago, which found that those who were hesitant to get the vaccine or said they would not get the shot believe it can or will cause harm with long-term side effects, or that it would hurt minorities. 

“Some individuals believe that the vaccine development process was too rushed, and that interactions with various medical conditions or prescriptions is not yet fully known and may be unsafe,” Tegas says. “They question the emergency use authorization versus the full FDA approval.”

In addition, the populations targeted by this grant don’t have easy access to transportation, face language barriers and do not have broadband services.

“Consistency and trust are key for increasing COVID-19 vaccination rates in the Latinx community. Community mobilization requires time, resources and commitment,” says Angelica Perez-Delgado, president and CEO of Ibero-American Action League. “Cultural mistrust of government and health care institutions along with misinformation continue to be our greatest challenges.”

This grant, she says, allows for longer-term strategies and for trusted community organizations like Ibero to secure the resources needed to reduce the inequities of the pandemic, particularly in underserved communities. 

Tegas acknowledges the work done so far to boost vaccinations in the region. However, she says more can and needs to be done. Rural populations, for example, are difficult to serve because of a lack of transportation and open spaces.

“Even getting messages to the population is more difficult as large pockets of the rural areas lack cell phone coverage and, in some counties, more than 25 percent of the population lacks access to broadband services,” Tegas says. “While the urban areas have better cellular and broadband coverage, persons in poverty in general are subject to the ‘digital divide’ that COVID has really called attention to as it became increasingly apparent (in the educational community especially during virtual learning) that students from low-income communities lacked access to technological resources prevalent in more affluent communities.”

These challenges are not limited to the Finger Lakes region. An NPR/PBS NewHour/Marist survey in March found that even if a vaccine was made available, 30 percent of respondents did not plan on getting a shot in the arm.

Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor.

3 thoughts on “Effort to boost vaccination rates gets funding

  1. Many medical professionals recommend an antibody test before getting a vaccination. If antibodies are present an emergency/experimental vaccine may not be necessary.

  2. The only solution now is vaccine mandates before a variant mutation renders us all at risk , and maybe inventing a new vaccine for a deadlier mutation . Italy has done it and told the anti-vaxxers they are not welcome to spread disease under the penalty of law . We have legal vaccine mandates , including two given me in the 1950’s that wiped out small pox and polio in our country by the late 1970’s . I am not an attorney , but I would love to hear from some attorneys on the American With Disabilities Act and Religious Exemptions . We have people in our work places covered by the Act who may not be able to take the vaccine due to MS , diabetes , heart conditions , cancer treatments and other medical issues . Do they have the right not to work with anti-vaxxers who could sicken or kill them ? There were also Christian Scientists beginning in the late 19th century that did not believe in medicines or doctors , but only prayer and God’s will . Many were prosecuted for allowing their children to suffer and even die from treatable conditions . Most of them changed their views on medicine in the second half of the 20th century . I would be interested to know if there is any legal consensus
    on these issues today . For five years we have been told to reach out to Trumpers , racists , reactionaries , and now anti-vaxxers with understanding , facts , and empathy . What we did was enable . What we got was January 6 , 2021 and the spread of a deadly disease . The rest of us have a right to safety for ourselves and our families and not to have democracy overthrown or sabotaged .

  3. Jim’s comments are exaggerated. The death rate for small pox before the vaccination was 30% and there was horrible scarring for many survivors. The death rate for Covid before the vaccinations was less than 2%. I don’t know what the death rate was for polio before the vaccination but I do know many survivors were severely crippled. Comparing small pox and polio to COVID is questionable. He doesn’t address the ten’s of millions who have natural immunity. And as Harvey Risch of Yale and Joseph Ladapo of UCLA wrote in the Wall Street Journal, there are concerns that the safety risks of COVID vaccines have been underestimated. The COVID vaccines technically are still experimental which is another reason for hesitation. Even Biden and Kamala Harris stated late last year that they would be hesitant to take the vaccine because it was rushed and it was implemented under Trump.

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