Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday announced that the Biden administration will invest $250 million in federal grants to community organizations that work to address gaps in the response to COVID-19.
In remarks to the National League of Cities, Harris announced the funding, which is targeted at organizations that are encouraging underserved and minority populations to get COVID-19 vaccinations and adopt safety practices to help them avoid contracting the virus.
The initiative, called Advancing Health Literacy to Enhance Equitable Community Responses to COVID-19, will be run by the Department of Health and Humans Services' Office of Minority Health and will provide grants to localities partnering with community-based organizations. The HHS official said the plan is designed to help local governments enhance their efforts around COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and other mitigation measures, while partnering with organizations that best know how to support their communities.
In her remarks, Harris encouraged the members of the National League of Cities — an organization consisting of thousands of cities, towns and village leaders — to embrace the plan.
Harris has already been trying to reduce vaccination disparities arising from racial, cultural and socioeconomic concerns, some of which are caused by distrust of the vaccine among minorities and rural Americans alike. In December, Harris received her first dose of the Moderna vaccine at United Medical Center in Southeast Washington, D.C., a hospital that provides services to mostly Black residents in the D.C. area with lower median incomes.
The White House and other federal agencies have held listening sessions with various groups with a focus on increasing vaccine confidence and addressing other barriers. When she was still a California senator, Harris introduced the COVID-19 Racial and Ethnic Disparities Task Force Act of 2020.
"Our communities are dying at disproportionately high rates." Harris said in February at a virtual roundtable with participants from local black chambers of commerce from across the country. "We've got to remind people that the vaccines are safe, that they will save lives."
According to the latest data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, across 35 states, the vaccination rate among White Americans was over 2.5 times higher than the rate for Hispanic people and nearly twice as high as the rate for Black people. Last week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced more than 55 million Americans had received one or more doses of the vaccine. Mistrust of the vaccine among some White Americans in rural communities has also been an increasing problem in the vaccination process.
Among the concerns Biden administration officials have raised in closing the racial gaps is the shortage of data.
"We're also calling on the states to help us get the data we need to know where we are and to work with us to find creative solutions to the inequitable vaccine uptake that has already emerged in these first months of the vaccination program," White House COVID-19 Health and Equity Task Force Chair Marcella Nunez-Smith said Monday. "I just want to be clear that achieving equity is not an aspirational goal. This is mission critical. Absent equity we will not be able to stop this pandemic from continuing to claim lives, strain our healthcare system, and weaken our economy."
An HHS official told CBS News the initiative is expected to fund approximately 20 projects in urban communities and 43 projects in rural communities for two years. HHS' Office of Minority Health will be accepting applications for its new initiative through April 20.
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