Andrew Cuomo recently announced a $15 million investment as part of a new tactic to increase vaccination across the state, funding that will be used to to reach specific communities with lower rates.

A resident receives the COVID-19 vaccine at a community health clinic in Queens in March 2021.

Adi Talwar

This article originally appeared in Spanish. Translated into English by Daniel Parra. Lea la versión en español aquí

Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the investment of $15 million as part of a new tactic to increase vaccination rates in communities disproportionately affected by the pandemic in New York. Six organizations will lead the effort and receive funding from the state to increase vaccination among immigrant, Latino, Asian, and African American communities. 

While New York State reports that 75 percent of the adult population has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, only 57.3 percent are fully vaccinated. African American New Yorkers, who make up 17.3 percent of the state’s population over age 15, account for 13 percent of those across the state who’ve received at least one vaccine dose.*

In the city alone, 42 percent of Latinos and 31 percent of African Americans are fully vaccinated. Yet these groups continue to have the lowest vaccination rates, especially in the Bronx—the borough with the lowest numbers—where only 35 percent of Latinos and 30 percent of African Americans are fully vaccinated.

Strategy for African-American communities

The Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies (FPWA) will lead the effort to promote vaccination among African Americans and has laid out a two-front strategy: working with organizations that are recognized by the community and selecting local leaders to boost vaccination.

Jennifer Jones Austin, FPWA’s CEO, said the groups that will be part of the efforts have already been selected (the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People or NAACP, the National Urban League, and the National Action Network), but that local leaders will be chosen in the coming weeks.

“We aim to work with messengers,” Jones Austin explains over the phone.

FPWA and the Hispanic Federation will each receive $5.5 million to develop this advocacy strategy, which Jones Austin explains will be similar to the strategy used in promoting the importance of responding to the 2020 Census.

“In general, it’s meeting people where they are,” said Jones Austin, who aims to reach 75 percent of the population vaccinated within three to four months.

None of the organizations set a specific vaccination rate as the project’s goal, but Jones Austin said the higher the number of vaccinated people in the shortest possible time, the better it will be for everyone.

In some counties, like Washington in New York’s capital region, vaccination rates show starker differences: African Americans account for nearly 4 percent of the county’s population but only 0.7 percent of those there who’ve received at least one dose.*

Strategy for Latino communities 

“One of the most important ways to get people vaccinated is to make sure that information is provided through trusted messengers. In our community, this is often community-based organizations,” writes Frankie Miranda, CEO of the Hispanic Federation.

The organization’s strategy will be three-pronged: provide culturally competent information to the Latino community in Spanish to combat misinformation and combat myths about vaccines; organize vaccination drives in accessible community locations; and encourage vaccinations by pairing them with food distribution drives, and financial assistance giveaways.

Miranda reiterated the message he gave during a press conference with state officials last week, saying that Latinos are not vaccine-hesitant, but rather information-hungry. In addition to the constant misinformation siege surrounding the vaccine, the main obstacle is accessibility and fear of losing days of work and income.

Strategy for Asian communities

The New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC), Asian American Federation, Charles B. Wang Community Center, and APICHA Community Health Center will each receive $1 million as part of the state project. 

Jo-Ann Yoo, CEO of the Asian American Federation, knows that hesitancy among Asian, Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander communities will not be centered in New York City, where this demographic has the highest vaccination rate as of Aug. 4, at 71 percent. Rather, their strategy will be scattered across the state’s low-vaccination zip codes.

This will include increasing the vaccination rate in the city and developing a mass vaccination plan for Asian communities upstate, based on education and translated information, explains Yoo.

“We also want to show solidarity by working together among all the selected organizations,” Yoo said by phone.

For her, the biggest obstacle that has prevented vaccination in Asian communities is misinformation, as well as the recent uptick in anti-Asian hate crimes that made people,  especially older adults, fearful of going out.

“Misinformation is a constant drumbeat,” said Yoo.

For Gertrudes Pajaron, development director of the APICHA Community Health Center, the goal will be to reach the millions of people who have not yet been vaccinated in the city through hundreds of volunteers who will make up what Pajaron called “the army of warriors.” 

“Because this is really a fight,” Pajaron said by phone.

As they assemble their staff, they will also take on the task of translating vaccine information into the most widely spoken languages in the city from the Asian continent including Tibetan, Nepali, Japanese, and Mandarin Chinese.

APICHA’s strategy will focus on two fronts: “create in-language public health campaigns tailored to the diverse API communities and will perform rigorous outreach in partnership with influential API organizations and individuals,” Pajaron says.

Strategy for immigrant communities

The New York Immigration Coalition’s proposed strategy includes not only vaccination but also access to resources. The organization plans to develop brochures, regional education events, webinars, and a referral program among COVID-19 vaccine providers, food pantries, and community-based organizations.

In addition, materials will be translated into up to nine languages (Spanish, French, Somali, Nepali, Arabic, Burmese, Bengali, Chinese, and Karen) that are spoken in the city and Central and Western New York regions.

“We will host two convenings per region and five statewide or virtual events,” says Rush Perez,  NYIC’s communications manager. Additionally, they will “use digital outreach strategies to target community members on the latest public health guidance via text and robocalls to reach 100,000 individuals.”

Rush explains that the coalition has more than 200 members in offices in Western New York, Central New York, the Hudson Valley, New York City and Long Island, and thus can reach multiple groups across the state.

These selected organizations have not yet received funding from the state and will have until the end of March 2022 to have developed and completed their projects.

*Editor’s note: This story was originally published using numbers that misinterpreted the state’s vaccination data by demographic groups. The state numbers show the breakdown of vaccinated New Yorkers by race and ethnicity when compared to the race and ethnicity of the state’s overall population older than 15. It does not show the percentage of each demographic group that has been vaccinated, as we previously presented the numbers. These lines in the story have been updated to correct this, and City Limits regrets the error. Thank you to reader Steven for pointing it out.

2 thoughts on “‘Trusted Messengers’: How Community Groups Plan to Increase Vaccination Rates in New York

  1. YOu are misinterpreting the data in the linked table. ‘Latinos and African Americans report much lower vaccination rates: 19.3 percent and 12.8 percent with at least one dose, respectively.” “This dashboard shows a breakdown of vaccinated New Yorkers by race and ethnicity (blue bars) compared to the overall population’s race and ethnicity (grey bars).” In other words, 12.8% of the vaccinated population is African American (as compared to 17.3% of the general population). Not 12.8% of African Americans have been vaccinated.

    • Hi Steven, thanks very much for pointing this out! We have updated those lines and added a correction. We apologize for the error.

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