CDC awards $120.5M to Mid-South states to expand COVID-19 vaccine access and increase acceptance in minority communities

Federal funding to bring vaccine to minorities

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Mid-South states are getting more than $120.5 million in federal funding to help expand vaccination efforts in communities disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 virus.

The CDC announced a total of $3 billion in funding Tuesday for states, including Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee, to bolster “broad-based vaccine distribution, access and administration efforts.”

$120 million for vaccinations in the Mid-South

“We are doing everything we can to expand access to vaccinations,” said CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky. “Millions of Americans are getting vaccinated every day, but we need to ensure that we are reaching those in the communities hit hardest by this pandemic. This investment will support state and local health departments and community-based organizations as they work on the frontlines to increase vaccine access, acceptance, and uptake.”

Arkansas received $29.1 million, $29.7 went to Mississippi and Tennessee received $64.7 million.

Funding was made available by the American Rescue Plan and the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act.

According to the states’ departments of health, In Tennessee and Arkansas, just over 10% of Black people are vaccinated.

Mississippi is outpacing both of their neighbors with 31%.

Minorities have been the hardest hit by the pandemic and the CDC wants state leaders to focus on partnerships to increase the uptake of vaccines in those communities.

“It’s important to have targeted messaging and targeted initiatives to every community because what we have seen in the past is one size does not fit all,” said Mauricio Calvo of Latino Memphis.

Calvo says Latino Memphis has been at the forefront of COVID-19 outreach to the Latinx community, including distributing vaccine pamphlets at their monthly free COVID-19 testing and vaccine webinars and Facebook lives.

In Tennessee, less than 3% of Hispanics have taken the vaccine

”Right now our objective is to concentrate on those individuals that are ready and willing to take the vaccine,” said Calvo.

According to the CDC, 75 percent of the total funding must focus on programs and initiatives to increase vaccine access, acceptance and uptake among racial and ethnic minority communities; and 60 percent must go to support local health departments, community-based organizations and community health centers.

It’s unknown at this time how the money will be distributed or which groups will get the funding.

A spokesperson for Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris said:

“We welcome all state and federal support to encourage community members to become vaccinated and expand access to the vaccine. Nevertheless, we believe the best strategy for making sure everyone in our community considers taking the vaccine is peer-to-peer influence.”

Harris believes people are most motivated by what people in their network are saying which is why last week he announced the COVID-19 Community Council.

The council will consist of volunteers willing to receive information and take the message of vaccination to their neighborhoods.

Calvo wants to do something similar, but he wants to train and pay people to be” community health care workers.”

“Even though it is community work communities have lost their jobs or lost income so I think it will be a win-win for the economy, for them and for information not only coming from professionals but coming from people that they trust in their own communities,” said Calvo.

It’s unclear if Latino Memphis will be one of the community organizations to receive the funds, but either way, he says the work will get done just as it has for the past year.

Here in Shelby County, about 33% of administered vaccines have gone to Black people and 44% to whites -- 3% of vaccines to Hispanics.

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