Report: Newark benefiting from Equity-First Vaccination Initiative

City was 1 of 5 nationwide to be in pilot program sponsored by Rockefeller Foundation

With COVID-19 again spreading at rapid rates — and calls to get vaccinated and to get booster shots growing — there’s reason to believe that Newark is in a better position to handle the latest surge, thanks to its participation in the Rockefeller Foundation’s $20 million Equity-First Vaccination Initiative.

Newark was one of five pilot cities (joining Baltimore, Chicago, Houston and Oakland, California) to participate in the program, which developed a sophisticated and evolving system of hyperlocal, community-led strategies to increase equitable access to COVID-19 information and vaccinations.

According to a new RAND Corp. report, commissioned by the Rockefeller Foundation and released Monday morning, community-driven efforts that build capacity among trusted community leaders have been critical to vaccinating hard-to-reach and hard-to-convince Americans.

Otis Rolley, senior vice president of the U.S. Equity and Economic Opportunity Initiative at the Rockefeller Foundation, said the initiative has created a framework for success.

“As the nation heads into a fourth wave and a battle with a more contagious variant, the hard job of building vaccine access and confidence is left to underfunded community organizations across the nation,” he said. “This report shares what actually works in getting people vaccinated — investing in community-based organizations who know their communities and can address their needs better than anybody else.”

In Newark, the EVI work, known as the Newark Equitable Vaccine Initiative, is being spearheaded by United Way of Greater Newark in collaboration with 15 community-based organizations. Earlier this year, these organizations were awarded $800,000 in grant funding to host neighborhood-based pop-up vaccination clinics and conduct public outreach aimed at providing accurate information about vaccines.

Adaobi Ndupu, director of health at the United Way of Greater Newark, said the effort is having impact.

“At United Way of Greater Newark, we’ve always believed that the most effective way to build equity in underresourced communities is through models of collaboration led by local organizations and people,” she said. “This approach is successful because the hyperlocal organizations that we’re working with on the Newark Equitable Vaccine Initiative have the trust of the community, which is crucial given the overwhelming amount of misinformation targeted at communities of color.

“We’re so grateful to the Rockefeller Foundation for their support of this model and this effort. We also want to thank our community partners who continue to go above and beyond in getting Newarkers vaccinated, particularly the most vulnerable residents.”

Strategies outlined in the report serve as models to remove inequities in the nationwide strategy and accelerate vaccination efforts.

Organizations participating in the pilot program did the following:

  • Held nearly 1,200 vaccine-related events;
  • Provided over 42,000 instances of assistance to get people vaccinated (e.g., transportation, registration);
  • Made almost 2 million contacts through online and offline communication campaigns;
  • Delivered almost 16,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

“The EVI partners have told us that, when it comes to tailoring information and strategies to break down access barriers to COVID-19 vaccinations, there is almost no such thing as ‘too hyperlocal,’” Laura Faherty, lead author of the report and a physician policy researcher at RAND, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization, said.

Community-based organizations identified the most effective ways for philanthropic funders and policymakers, both nationally and locally, to advance equity by developing strategies to ensure:

  • Delivery of accurate, timely, understandable information about where, when and how to get vaccinated;
  • Access to vaccine sites, which are often located in inconvenient places, open at inconvenient times and unaccommodating of those with mobility limitations;
  • Trust in institutions administering vaccinations;
  • Internet connection and the technological literacy needed to access vaccinations; and
  • Access to funds for transportation to and from vaccination sites, and to cover missed work hours.