- HHS is offering $250 million in grants to improve healthcare literacy and uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine in underserved populations, the agency said Monday.
- The funding is available to cities, counties and other subdivisions and is expected to fund 30 urban projects and 42 rural projects over the next two years. Applications are open through April 20.
- Recipients will be expected to work with local, community-based organizations "to increase the availability, acceptability and use of COVID-19 public health information and services by racial and ethnic minority populations and others considered vulnerable for not receiving and using COVID-19 public health information," according to HHS.
COVID-19 has disproportionately affected people of color in terms of higher infection and death rates, as well as more instances of severe disease. As the rollout of vaccines continues, public health officials have reported concerns the disparities will continue, and data so far suggests that could be the case.
Information from the 35 states that report racial data for coronavirus vaccinations shows that White people were at least twice as likely to have received the vaccine than Black people and Hispanic people, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Vaccine distribution overall has been improving. Saturday marked a record in the number of doses given in a single day at nearly 2.9 million, Andy Slavitt, a senior adviser to the Biden administration pandemic response, said Monday at a press briefing.
The administration has made equity a central part of this response. The official in charge of the effort, Marcella Nunez-Smith, said at the briefing the initiative includes gathering better data on distribution from states and building relationship with trusted messengers across the country.
"So I just want to be clear that achieving equity is not an aspirational goal; this is mission critical," she said. "Absent equity, we will not be able to stop this pandemic from continuing to claim lives, strain our healthcare system, and weaken our economy."
Health officials also worry that people of color will be wary of trusting the messaging around the vaccine given abuses against them in the past from the healthcare system.
Nunez-Smith acknowledged this as well, saying the administration has "work to do to meet people where they are."
Last month, the Joint Commission issued an advisory pushing providers to gather more data on vaccine equity as well as train staff on implicit bias, provider interpreters and use communication platforms other than the telephone.