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State spends $6.1 million on vaccine equity as community raises awareness

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MADISON (WKOW) -- In an effort to raise awareness and improve access to COVID-19 vaccines, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) announced Monday a $6.1 million investment to support community-based organizations.

DHS said the money will go specifically to communities that have struggled to get necessary healthcare services and the COVID-19 vaccine.

According to DHS, $3.1 million will go to trusted organizations, who will build vaccine confidence and help breakdown the vaccination barriers seen in both urban and rural areas.

State vaccination data shows that outreach is needed right now to eliminate disparities.

Only 3.3% of Wisconsin's Black community and 3.3% of the Hispanic population have been vaccinated as of Monday, compared to 11.5% of white people.

"What we've got is a very defining moment in the healthcare delivery system," said Greg Jones, president of the NAACP of Dane County.

Jones was surprised to see no other people of color when he and his wife went to get their first dose of the vaccine earlier this month.

"[When] the nurse gave me my shot, I asked her how many people has she provided a shot for that day. She said about 50. I asked her, 'then how many people of color?' She said I was the first," he said. "It triggered in my mind that ongoing conversation about what are we doing as a community to reach those communities and localities and neighborhoods that need to be aware."

UW Health's Dr. Matt Anderson says vaccinators have offered early signups for Black, Latinx and Native American patients during the vaccine rollout.

"That's because those individuals are at an increased risk, compared to other racial or ethnic groups, for hospitalization or death from COVID-19. So those individuals we did prioritize for an early invitation and that was actually really successful," he told 27 News.

Still the numbers show they have more work to do to reach everyone who is eligible to get the vaccine.

UW is hiring community health workers to provide information for people who may be hesitant to get the vaccine and partnering with organizations to get the word out.

NAACP has done some outreach, too, according to Jones, who is hoping more information will give people the option they may not have seen before.

"Some of the distance and some of the mistrust is already there, but on a larger level, more and more people are becoming more engaged in trying to reach out to people," he said. "Everybody I see who's Black, I say, 'have you had your shot? Are you going to get it?' So, it's a matter of being a conduit to at least carry on the purpose of the vaccination."

The other $3 million from the state is for Federally Qualified Health Centers, Aging and Disability Resource Centers, Family Health La Clinica, Minority Health Grantees, and United Way of Wisconsin 2-1-1 to supplement their efforts already invested into vaccine equity.

"We need to continue our efforts and outreach to make sure to get as many Wisconsinites protected from COVID-19 as possible," Gov. Tony Evers said. "By investing in trusted organizations to engage in strategic outreach, coordination, and vaccine education for racially and geographically diverse populations, we are better able to protect our communities that have been hit hardest by COVID-19.”

In addition to the new investment in equity, the state is aiming to reduce disparities with a new community-based clinic that opens Tuesday in Rock County. The Hispanic population is falling behind even more there, according to state vaccination data. Just 1.9% of the Hispanic population has been vaccinated in Rock County.

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