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With All Eyes on COVID Vaccination Rates, Funders Nationwide Battle Hesitancy and Inequity

In Inside Philanthropy, PHI president and CEO Mary Pittman describes working with California philanthropies to form Together Toward Health, to support COVID-19 work by local community organizations throughout the state. PHI’s long-standing relationships with both public health officials and community-based organizations were key in this work with communities most impacted by the pandemic.

Mary Pittman, CEO and President of PHI

Late last year, when the COVID-19 vaccine rollout was just beginning, the term “vaccine hesitancy” wasn’t a big part of the mainstream conversation. People were worried about supply, distribution and the challenges of freezing the Pfizer vaccine. Local governments made plans for vaccination priority groups, and early efforts to promote equity focused on getting the vaccine to essential workers and populations most impacted by the pandemic.

But in the philanthropic community, many funders anticipated the problem of vaccine hesitancy in the United States, and recognized that vaccination equity was a multilayered, complex problem that wasn’t just about access to clinics, transportation, information and broadband, but also lack of trust in the government and the healthcare system.

As vaccination becomes increasingly essential in winning the larger fight against COVID, funders are preparing for long-haul coalition work. Community-focused foundations with experience in public health philanthropy are acting as hubs for rapidly growing coalitions composed of both private- and public-sector participants.

In California, Together Toward Health follows a similar model, with a veteran healthcare nonprofit—in this case, the Public Health Institute—administering a pooled fund that provides rapid, flexible grants to hyper-local community organizations throughout the state. The program started in 2020 with a broad COVID response mandate, and in 2021, the primary focus has become vaccination. The coalition has raised over $30 million from 18 funders, including The California Endowment, the Blue Shield of California Foundation and the Ballmer Group.

Mary Pittman, president and CEO at the Public Health Institute, says that a colleague at The California Endowment contacted her about providing fiscal sponsorship and operational support for the emerging coalition. The funders understood the importance of the institute’s long-standing relationships with both public health officials and community-based organizations. Similar to the efforts in Texas and Chicago, Pittman says that Together Toward Health focuses its grantmaking on “CBOs that are not generally eligible for grants because of their size,” and working within “the communities most impacted by the pandemic.”

The Sierra Health Foundation, a long-standing Sacramento-based philanthropy, is one of the funders of the Together Toward Health partnership in California. Chet Hewitt, Sierra’s CEO, says that collaborative philanthropy’s ability to leverage its relationships with smaller community-based organizations and connect them with public health efforts has been “incredibly helpful” to the U.S. COVID response. CBOs and trusted messengers speak the language of the community (often literally), are culturally competent, and might employ different tactics than the typical public health toolkit.

“Many of these partnerships were ramped up when we knew we had to get people counted [for the U.S. Census],” Hewitt says. “We had some families who maybe lived in a garage. Who might be more reticent to show up in a public place. Who might not have the ability to sign online.” Now that these same people require outreach for vaccination efforts, partnerships with CBOs and community leaders are already in place.

Click below to read the full article in Inside Philanthropy (subscription required).

Originally published by Inside Philanthropy

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