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New Report: Closing Gaps in U.S. Covid-19 Vaccination Rates Requires Hyper-Local, Community-Led Strategies

Report highlights work of pioneering local organizations that serve as models to increase vaccine equity.

New York | December 20, 2021 — A new report from the RAND Corporation, commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation, finds that community-driven efforts that build capacity among trusted community leaders have been critical to vaccinating hard-to-reach and hard-to-convince Americans. One year into the Covid-19 vaccination roll-out, the United States has struggled to reach the most socially vulnerable communities with Black, brown, indigenous, and immigrant populations less likely to get a vaccine, but more likely to get seriously ill and die of Covid-19. Strategies outlined in the report serve as models to remove inequities in the nationwide strategy and accelerate vaccination efforts.

“As the nation heads into a fourth wave and a battle with a more contagious variant, the hard job of building vaccine access and confidence is left to underfunded community organizations across the nation,” said Otis Rolley, Senior Vice President of the U.S. Equity and Economic Opportunity Initiative at The Rockefeller Foundation. “This report shares what actually works in getting people vaccinated—investing in community-based organizations who know their communities and can address their needs better than anybody else.”

Supported by The Rockefeller Foundation’s $20M Equity-First Vaccination Initiative (EVI), over 100 community-based organizations (CBOs) led by Open Society Institute-Baltimore, Chicago Community Trust, Houston in Action, United Way of Greater Newark, and Roots Community Health Center in Oakland, Calif. developed a sophisticated and evolving system of hyper-local, community-led strategies to increase equitable access to Covid-19 information and vaccinations. These strategies respond directly to the specific culture, norms, and history embedded in each community. Collectively, these organizations:

  • Held nearly 1,200 vaccine-related events;
  • Provided over 42,000 instances of assistance to get people vaccinated (e.g., transportation and registration);
  • Made almost 2 million contacts through online and offline communication campaigns;
  • Delivered almost 16,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines.

“The EVI partners have told us that when it comes to tailoring information and strategies to break down access barriers to Covid-19 vaccinations, there is almost no such thing as ‘too hyper-local,’” said Laura Faherty, lead author of the report and a physician policy researcher at RAND, a nonprofit, non-partisan research organization.

“CBO staff have emphasized that the people who are closest to the challenges in their communities are the ones who are best positioned to identify the solutions,” said Jeanne Ringel, study co-lead and a senior economist at RAND. “Our data analysis and interviews with CBO staff show that they are already making real progress towards vaccination equity in their respective cities.”

The CBOs identified the most effective ways for philanthropic funders and policymakers, both nationally and locally, to advance equity. These included strategies that better ensure:

  • Delivery of accurate, timely, and understandable information about where, when, and how to get vaccinated;
  • Access to vaccine sites which are otherwise often located in inconvenient places, open at inconvenient times, and unaccommodating of those with mobility limitations;
  • Trust in institutions administering vaccinations;
  • Internet connection and the technological literacy needed to access vaccinations; and
  • Access to funds for transportation to and from vaccination sites, and to cover missed work hours.

“As one of the largest and most diverse cities in the country, the city of Houston saw great loss at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Now, almost two years in, the loss has been magnified and exacerbated by long-existing inequities that plague communities of color and create barriers to health care,” said Ana Mac Naught, Director of Coordination at Houston in Action. “We work diligently to combat inequity and ensure equitable vaccine access to the communities most impacted by an unjust system. We meet communities where they are, provide information and resources, and combat rampant misinformation. We have shown the power and effectiveness of community-centered programs, and because the work is far from over, we continue to actively listen to our communities and expand access to vaccination across the city.”

“At United Way of Greater Newark we’ve always believed that the most effective way to build equity in under-resourced communities is through models of collaboration led by local organizations and people. This approach is successful because the hyper-local organizations that we’re working with on the Newark Equitable Vaccine Initiative have the trust of the community, which is crucial given the overwhelming amount of misinformation targeted at communities of color,” explained Catherine Wilson, President & CEO of United Way of Greater Newark. “We’re so grateful to The Rockefeller Foundation for their support of this model and this effort. I also want to thank our community partners who continue to go above and beyond in getting Newarkers vaccinated, particularly the most vulnerable residents.”

For more maps of vaccine inequity, city- and CBO-specific equity strategies, staff anecdotes, and information about EVI, please read the full report.

More communications and community resources for CBOs can be found on the EVI learning hub at

About The Rockefeller Foundation

The Rockefeller Foundation is a pioneering philanthropy built on collaborative partnerships at the frontiers of science, technology, and innovation to enable individuals, families, and communities to flourish. We work to promote the well-being of humanity and make opportunity universal. Our focus is on scaling renewable energy for all, stimulating economic mobility, and ensuring equitable access to healthy and nutritious food. For more information, sign up for our newsletter at and follow us on Twitter @RockefellerFdn.

The Rockefeller Foundation’s Equity-First Vaccination Initiative aims to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in Covid-19 vaccination rates in the United States while strengthening the public health system to achieve more equitable outcomes. Building on prior place-based investments, the Foundation committed $20 million over one year to fund five demonstration sites—Baltimore, Md.; Chicago, Ill.; Houston, Texas; Newark, N.J.; and Oakland, Calif.— to plan and implement hyper-local, community-led strategies to increase vaccine confidence and access for BIPOC communities. For more information, including resources for community-based organizations and leaders, visit and follow on Twitter @EVICommunity.

Media Contact

Ashley Chang
The Rockefeller Foundation
(212) 852-0000

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