Rockefeller pilot program, with emphasis on vaccinating underserved, opens in Newark

Many are still concerned about access and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine to underserved communities. This week, leaders in Essex County — using a national pilot program by the Rockefeller Foundation — began to take action.

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, University Hospital CEO Shereef Elnahal and a host of other government and community leaders joined forces to launch the Newark Equitable Vaccine Initiative, the first-ever fully community-powered campaign to increase access to and equity in vaccine distribution in Newark.

Newark was one of seven cities selected for the pilot program, which is focused on creating a community-driven model for building equity into vaccine distribution and increasing access to vaccinations in Black and brown communities.

The event took place in the outdoor space of IHOP Newark, owned by local entrepreneur Adenah Bayoh, and featured a speaking program, on-site vaccinations, local entertainment and giveaways. At the event, nearly 150 eligible Newark residents were vaccinated, many of whom were people with disabilities or elderly.

The on-site vaccinations were conducted by Newark Community Health Centers and Rite Aid. NCC provided on-site assistance to homeless residents and those with disabilities. Patient monitoring was provided by nursing staff from Prudential Financial.

United Way of Greater Newark CEO Catherine Wilson said the vaccine challenges facing Newark can be found around the world.

“Equitable vaccine distribution is a challenge across the globe, especially in majority Black and brown communities, which, because of historic racial inequities, have less access to technology, primary care providers and vaccine supply,” she said. “Newark is no different, with our COVID-19 positivity rates and death rates among the highest in New Jersey and Essex County.

“Rockefeller Foundation’s generous grant will support our work, which has focused on providing resources and support to our community members since the start of the pandemic — specifically by providing crucial information and education about vaccine effectiveness and distribution. We look forward to working with other community organizations in Newark to make this possible.”

Wilson’s worries are well-founded. Despite the rapidly increasing number of vaccinations available to eligible residents in New Jersey and nationally, the vaccination rates in Black and brown communities remain disproportionately low.

As of March 15, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, Black and Latinx individuals have received a significantly smaller share of vaccines relative to their population size, as well as their proportion of COVID-19 cases and deaths. Although Black New Jersey residents comprise 12% of the state’s population, they have received just 5% of the available vaccines. Similarly, Latinx New Jersey residents comprise 21% of the population but have only received 7% of the available vaccines.

More alarmingly, according to a report by WNYC/Gothamist, of New Jersey’s young adults, Latino men are dying of COVID-19 at a higher rate than any other demographic group. They comprise just 12% of New Jersey’s young adult population, but account for 43% of confirmed COVID-19 deaths among adults under 50 years old.

The Newark Equitable Vaccine Initiative will run until the end of the year. The program partners will continue working in coordination through a citywide task force. The effort will also include grassroots and digital outreach, an aggressive marketing and communications campaign, and additional pop-up vaccination events.

Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness Director Dr. Mark Wade and Rite Aid Division Vice President Margherita Cardello also participated in the event.