White House announces more funding for vaccinations in underserved areas

Washington — The Biden administration on Tuesday announced $121 million in grants to over 100 community-based organizations across the U.S. to boost vaccinations in underserved communities. The funding will be going to groups like churches and local first responders to help provide more information to people in rural areas about COVID-19 vaccinations.

The grants will also support African-American, Latino and tribal entities involved with church communities young people and others to help with the vaccine literacy effort and to convince more of those who are not yet vaccinated to get their shots.

The funds, provided through the American Rescue Plan, are being distributed by the Health and Human Services Department and Health Resources and Services Administration. 

Nonprofit private or public organizations were eligible to apply for the funds, including local and regional community-based organizations with experience in public health programs, especially in medically underserved areas. This includes tribes and tribal organizations. A panel of outside experts evaluated the applications.

After stalling for weeks, the rate of those receiving their first shot has ticked up to levels last seen in late June, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data. But those who remain unvaccinated appear to have hardened in their resistance to getting their shots, according to CBS News polling. They are suspicious of the science, skeptical about the effectiveness and they distrust the government that is urging them to be vaccinated.

Meanwhile, the Delta variant of the virus is spreading rapidly, especially among those who are unvaccinated. And currently, over 97% of those who are hospitalized with COVID-19 have not had the vaccine.

The Biden administration has turned to a wide variety of influencers to try to convince people to get vaccinated — from the president, his predecessors in the job and his Cabinet, to athletes and celebrities (pop star Olivia Rodrigo lent some star power to the effort last week). Now, faced with people who are set in their resistance to the idea of the vaccine, the administration is trying to reach messengers in these communities who have a deeper personal connection with these populations and might be able to sway them. 

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a department release about the grants, “Today’s investments are part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts to strengthen equity and support organizations that focus on underserved communities as they work to increase vaccinations and keep people safe and healthy.”  

“This community-based COVID-19 vaccine outreach program will make it possible to reach people in vulnerable and medically underserved communities and help reduce disparities in COVID-19 vaccination rates,” said Acting HRSA Administrator Diana Espinosa.  

The Biden administration awarded $125 million last month to aid community outreach efforts to increase vaccinations. 

The CDC has found that coverage was lower among people in counties that were “less urban, had higher social vulnerabilities, or had higher percentages of social determinants of poor health.” The CDC has also found that vaccination gaps were largest in counties with lower socioeconomic status. 

Weijia Jiang contributed to this article.