In the face of stark racial disparities in Wisconsin’s vaccination rates, the Department of Health Services announced a $6.2 million grant fund to help increase equitable access to the COVID-19 vaccine.

Wisconsin has vaccinated 33% of residents with at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine as of April 5, and the rolling averages of vaccines administered has increased significantly in the last month.

Despite the positive increase in vaccination rates, further analysis has many community advocacy groups concerned that vaccine resources are not being distributed equitably.

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According to the DHS database, while 31.3% of the state’s white population has been vaccinated, only 13.2% of the Black population have received vaccines. There are also stark differences when looking at ethnicity, with 32% of the non-Hispanic population vaccinated versus only 15.7% of the Hispanic population. 

Data like this spurred Wisconsin officials to invest over $6.2 million into community advocacy to drive local vaccination campaigns, according to a press release from the DHS. These funds will be distributed to over 100 organizations working in local communities across the state to provide information, resources and assistance to underserved communities. 

“The investment aims to increase vaccinations by supporting organizations to serve as trusted messengers within their communities, build vaccine confidence and reduce barriers that hinder vaccine access for marginalized or underserved populations,” the DHS press release stated. 

The goal of these programs is to support citizens of Wisconsin left out of relief and vaccination plans. The DHS allocated funds to organizations in hopes community-based groups could best counter vaccine misinformation and create a more equitable distribution of vaccinations. 

Commonly cited barriers to vaccination for communities of color include language difficulties, lack of internet access, transportation associated costs and lack of trust between communities and government entities, according to Madison 365

Many Madison-based organizations received funding from the grant award process, including Madison 365, 100 Black Men of Madison, Inc., Benevolent Specialists Project Free Clinic, Catholic Multicultural Center, Literacy Network of
Dane County and several other groups serving the greater Dane County region.

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According to the DHS press release, awardees will use culturally relevant information to engage in outreach to promote vaccine acceptance. Other awardees will work to increase vaccine access by coordinating rides, scheduling appointments, opening vaccination clinics or disseminating information in an inclusive and accessible manner.

In the press release, DHS secretary-designee Karen Timberlake said the pandemic continues to highlight existing health inequities in Wisconsin with Black, Indigenous and people of color experiencing higher rates of infection, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19.

“As part of our work to reach an 80% vaccination rate across our state, we have to ensure those Wisconsinites that have been hit hardest by the pandemic have the opportunity to protect themselves and their loved ones from the virus,” Timberlake said in the press release.