In the next few months the Biden administration is doling out $66.5 million to community organizations and “minority-serving institutions” that will help “strengthen vaccine confidence” among racial and ethnic minority groups as well as underserved communities. The allocation is part of a broader, $143.5 million initiative launched by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) this month to “address barriers to COVID-19 vaccination.” Under the plan an HHS offshoot called Health Resources and Services Administration that aims to “achieve health equity” will keep disbursing funds throughout the fiscal year to expand “community-based efforts” to vaccinate minorities. “We have seen great progress in vaccination rates in recent months, but we know our work isn’t done in addressing misinformation and ensuring equitable access in underserved communities,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said.
HRSA Administrator Diana Espinosa says the considerable taxpayer investment “will help reduce disparities and reach people in underserved communities who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.” A few months ago, Espinosa and her agency proudly announced a $1 billion allocation to help modernize health centers in “medically underserved communities.” The project was also inspired by the health disparities between wealthier white communities and those with poor minorities that the administration claims were exposed during the pandemic. In fact, Becerra called the billion-dollar award a “historic investment” that will modernize facilities to better meet the most pressing public health challenges associated with COVID-19, including testing, treatment, and vaccination with “an eye towards advancing equity.” Perhaps not coincidentally, California, where Becerra grew up, went to college, and served as attorney general, got the biggest chunk of money—$139 million—to modernize health centers in minority neighborhoods.
The new $66.5 million award will go to seven community organizations that will strengthen vaccine confidence among racial and ethnic minority groups by providing culturally appropriate information, education and outreach involving the shots. The groups will also help individuals make vaccine appointments and assist with transportation or other needs to get to the appointment. Grant recipients must demonstrate experience providing outreach to “vaccine hesitant communities,” including rural non-white non-English speaking, and other underserved communities, the HRSA announcement states. “Culturally competent” strategies must be inclusive of the community’s characteristics and relevant historical, environmental, and social forces. These considerations should include unique characteristics, experiences, norms, values, behaviors, and beliefs of the targeted audiences.
Upon receiving government funds, groups will identify and target the “most vulnerable and underserved communities” in the state as well as significant changes in vaccine hesitancy. They will also monitor data and trends related to vaccine hesitancy and equitable access to ensure that the most vulnerable and medically underserved populations are reached. Besides racial and ethnic minorities, the agency identifies vulnerable and medically underserved populations that must be reached as LGBTQ, individuals with chronic health conditions, “pregnant people,” and adolescents. Under the program incentives, such as gift cards, can be offered to the underserved minority participants using taxpayer dollars. There is a limit, however. “While gift cards may be used for incentives, the value cannot exceed $50 per COVID-19 vaccine injection,” according to the grant announcement.
The federal government is not the only one spending public funds to give minorities and other underserved groups COVID-19 vaccine priority over other residents. Earlier in the year Judicial Watch reported on the discriminatory initiatives of three states. In Virginia, during the initial vaccine rollout black and Latinos received vaccine priority as white 85-year-olds were forced to wait in the Old Dominion state. Incarcerated criminals and those living in homeless shelters or “migrant labor camps” were also prioritized. In Vermont minority communities, including people of color, indigenous, English language learners, and refugees got their shots before others in the state. Maryland’s two biggest counties—both illegal immigrant sanctuaries—launched a “special clinic” to inoculate 600 Latinos a week while other residents waited patiently to receive their government-funded shot.