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Communities RISE Together Partnership to Support Local COVID-19 Vaccination Efforts in Over 25 States

Gaby M. Rojas

Oakland, CA-In response to inequities in the rate of COVID-19 vaccinations in many communities of color compared to white areas, and with the surge in COVID cases due to the more transmissible Delta variant, WE in the World (WE), which convenes the Well Being In the Nation (WIN) Network, and the Public Health Institute are partnering in Communities RISE Together (#CommuntiesRISE), an initiative funded by the US Department of Health and Human Services to promote vaccinations in Black, Asian-American/Pacific-Islander, Latinx, Native-American, rural, immigrant/migrant and low-income older adult populations in more than 220 counties in over 25 states and territories with low vaccination rates. RISE partners are calling in the civic capacity of 2,400 community-based organizations in communities experiencing inequities who reach over 100 million Black, indigenous, Latinx, Asian-Pacific Islander, and low-income people across the nation.   

The COVID pandemic has revealed and worsened persistent racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic health inequities, with vastly different rates of COVID cases, vaccination rates, and health and life outcomes in communities of color. The Communities RISE Together initiative aims to address these gaps through trusted messengers who are already on the ground and have deep trust in communities.  Partners in Communities RISE Together include CHROMATIC BLACK, the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD), the Hawai’i Public Health Institute, Latino Health Access (LHA), the Migrant Clinicians Network (MCN), Meals on Wheels America (MOWA), National Council on Aging (NCOA), National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (N4A), the Public Health Institute’s Center to Advance Community Health and Equity (CACHE), and WE in the World/WIN Network.  

Somava Saha, Executive Lead of WE in the World and the WIN Network, and co-lead for Communities RISE explained: “We have found that supporting trusted community groups who are from and know these communities is the best way to reach and address racial and economic barriers to health and well-being outcomes. Many of these organizations are trusted but nontraditional public health workers–volunteers who deliver meals to seniors, the Divine Nine sororities, artists-activists, faith communities, community organizers who got out the vote who are now getting out the vaccine.  These local organizations know best how to reach their neighbors and friends — with support, they can help to chart a path toward longer term healing and resilience in areas that have been hit hardest by the virus.”

Over the six month project, some of the activities supported by the Communities RISE partnership will include:

  • Developing supportive communication strategies, networking with faith leaders, community organizers, Meals on Wheels workers, senior center staff, union workers and others to combat disinformation and misinformation and provide accurate, science-based information.
  • Training a corps of vaccine ambassadors from community health workers and promotoras who will address vaccine access gaps in their communities. 
  • Connecting people to their needs for health and life, from vaccinations to food to housing security.
  • Recruiting, hiring and training “social listeners” from local communities to monitor social media and correct misinformation and encourage vaccination.
  • Fostering an agile, peer-to-peer learning and action collaborative to support rapid dissemination of information and learning across communities.
  • Providing training, tools, resources and technical support for hyper-localized communication campaigns.
  • Leveraging media partners to amplify messaging.
  • Coordinating with local health systems for meaningful engagement in local public health operations and clinical leadership.

“We all have a role to play in ending COVID, and this initiative builds on everyone’s strengths. Our community-centered workforce already serves as trusted messengers within their neighborhoods, and we are providing the connection to their local public health responders. RISE will strengthen the capacity and reach of public health departments and communities in areas which have been hit the hardest and where people have real reasons to feel mistrust of our systems–but trust each other,” said Kevin Barnett, co-lead of RISE and Executive Director of CACHE.

In California, PHI’s Together Toward Health (TTH) initiative is proving the success of models such as the one RISE is based on.  Launched in September 2020, TTH works with CBOs in low-income communities of color to support education, awareness and outreach to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, increase vaccine awareness and access, and to provide workforce development strategies that can strengthen long-term local economic resilience. Like TTH, RISE will support trusted community liaisons who bring intimate knowledge of the needs on the ground, as well as the populations they serve, to lead their response in coordination with pub“The opportunity to be a partner in the RISE collaboration is incredibly uplifting for the Migrant Clinicians Network,” noted Deliana Garcia, Director International Projects and Emerging Issues at MCN. “We have a long history of partnerships and collaboration. However, the experience of watching RISE come together through the thoughtful process of identifying ‘who needs to be at this table’ was exhilarating. The collaboration between partners who represent a broad spectrum of communities – many that are frequently forgotten and some who are not often in a relationship committed to a common goal.  This is a new frontier in community mobilization and we are so pleased to be a part!” 

Angela Harmon, Co-Founder of CHROMATIC BLACK said, “RISE is serving as a powerful mechanism that is enabling us to address this urgent moment with innovation, creativity and bold action. We are in deep gratitude to RISE for their willingness to power solutions that do not replicate the limitations of the past.”

Public health departments and in partnership with new groups they may not have previously collaborated with.  In addition, RISE will support communities to advance a multi-sector approach to address the underlying conditions in people’s lives that might cause challenges. Follow #CommunitiesRISE on social media to see work as it happens across the country. Find out more about Communities RISE Together and see the HHS press release on the Communities RISE award.

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