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Injection of federal funds to aid community clinics in education, vaccination of minority communities

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Posted at 6:14 PM, Mar 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-25 18:56:20-04

CLEVELAND — Nearly a dozen organizations and community health clinics will collectively receive more than $12 million in federal funding through the newly-signed American Rescue Plan. The additional funding, which was announced on Thursday, will go towards education, outreach, COVID-19 testing, treatment and vaccinations in underserved and hard-to-reach communities, officials announced.

Since the mass vaccination site opened at the Wolstein Center earlier this month, more than 45,000 people have been vaccinated. However, the vaccination rates in Cuyahoga County continue to lag. As of Wednesday evening, only 12.75% of Cuyahoga County’s black population — or about 48,000 people — have been vaccinated. The vaccination rate among white residents, however, has exceeded 29%.

RELATED: Data continues to show disparities in vaccination rates among minority communities

Even as other community groups have seen large increases in total vaccination rates since the Wolstein Center mass vaccination site opened up earlier this month, the number of Black people to be vaccinated has only grown slightly. Disparities like these are rooted in a multitude of different issues, officials said, including transportation and historical distrust in vaccines among certain groups.

“[The federal funding is] kind of a game-changer in allowing us to expand capacity to help with the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Elaine Tso, the president of Asian Services in Action (ASIA). “Many of the community members that we’re serving, they are lacking in healthcare services because of language access and other barriers. This will allow us to expand our capacity through outreach and education.”

According to funding allocations that were released on Thursday, Asian Services in Action will receive more than $900,000 in federal American Rescue Plan funding. Other recipients include:

  • Axesspointe Community Health Center, Akron ($4 million)
  • Care Alliance, Cleveland ($4.4 million)
  • Circle Health Services, Cleveland ($2.25 million)
  • Neighborhood Health Care, Inc., Cleveland ($3.7 million)
  • Northeast Ohio Neighborhood Health Services ($4.6 million)
  • Lorain County Health & Dentistry ($2.8 million).

Click here to see the full list of recipients in Ohio.

Dr. Claude Jones of Care Alliance also echoed Tso’s remarks in that the federal funding would be a game-changer.

“It’s going to allow us to expand our vaccination strategies and expand our testing into the community. We can’t forget about that. We can expand our education, workforce and possible access points,” Jones said. “The really great thing for us as an organization but also for the community as well, because it’s going to allow us to penetrate those areas where the vaccination rates are low and high positivity rates.”

Jones said the additional funding will allow community clinic organizations like Care Alliance to mobilize their operations and reach populations that are notoriously difficult to reach, including the homeless. The education component that the additional funding provides also cannot be understated, he said.

"In some minority and disadvantaged communities, there is that stigma about vaccines because of a history associated with vaccines and testing on human subjects in the past,” Jones said. “Those things still exist. We have to knock those barriers down.”

Tso said one of the barriers that exists with large vaccination sites like that at the Wolstein Center can often be the general unfamiliarity with the location. With the help of the federal funding, she anticipates mobile and pop-up vaccine clinics to become available.

"We are able to deploy more vaccines into the communities that we’re serving because they trust us. That will be a victory,” Tso said. “We are showing faces that look like the community and that has been really effective messaging. Whenever we’re able to show a community member receiving the vaccine, it really helps show to other members of the community that they need to be vaccinated.”

That "walking the walk" has also been effective in parts of Cleveland’s Glenville neighborhood, said Ward 8 Councilman Kevin Conwell. Conwell, who received his second dose of the vaccine on Thursday, will gladly show and demonstrate the safety of the vaccine to anyone in his community.

“We have lost a lot of people. That’s what pushed me to do this. I’ve received phone calls every week from people that lost a loved one because of COVID 19,” Conwell said.

Conwell and his staff have routinely gone door-to-door throughout Ward 8 to provide people with information on how to get tested and vaccinated. He has also provided his residents with flyers that have answered commonly asked questions.

“You’ve got to have boots on the ground and you need leaders in the African American community, the churches, the pastors, the council members, state reps and senators to show that it’s okay and that they got a shot in the arm,” Conwell said. “They have to see it.”