Vaccine Plus: Community Health and Power


In 2021, the Rx Foundation made rapid response COVID-19 Vaccine Equity grants to 14 community-based organizations in nine states. These grants supported the work of community organizers, community health workers, faith-based coalitions, a federal qualified health care center, and nonprofits serving people of color, immigrant communities, and people experiencing homelessness, with an overall goal of reducing barriers to vaccines and meeting the needs of communities who were not being served through existing COVID vaccine efforts.

Existing Rx Foundation grant partners recommended organizations in their communities for rapid response Vaccine Equity grants, and in lieu of written proposals the Rx Foundation staff engaged in conversations with organization leaders. We carried that approach through to a conversation-based reporting process that eliminated written reports, and hosted a convening for Vaccine Equity partners to learn from each other and to strategize about ongoing challenges in early 2022.

COVID Vaccine Equity & Access / Vaccine Plus – Community Health & Power
Grant Partner Network

Very few of the efforts of grant partners were “vaccine only,” and in many cases organizations integrated their vaccine outreach with efforts to meet other urgent community needs. This included other prevention efforts (masks and testing), building partnerships with food pantries, distributing Narcan or diapers, and making COVID a community safety issue.

Learning from this experience so far, several things are clear: (1) We can’t only address people’s COVID prevention needs when communities are facing greater economic, housing, food security, and overall health challenges. (2) The Rx Vaccine Equity partners are effective, trusted messengers in their communities, and understand the local context and needs. (3) In many cases, Rx Foundation grants were the only funding that supported their COVID-related efforts. (4) Structural inequities too often keep Black-led, immigrant-led, and community-led organizations away from the tables where decisions are made and funding is decided.

Lessons from Vaccine Plus Partners:
Eastern Union Missionary Baptist Association

Purpose and Funding

Building on the initial rapid response grant program, and acknowledging the profound health and social challenges faced as we entered the third year of the coronavirus pandemic, the Rx Foundation launched a new Vaccine Plus initiative to support the expanded efforts of our existing Vaccine Equity partner organizations. Organizations were invited to engage in a brief application process for additional $25,000 grants in 2022.

The purpose of these grants are to provide unrestricted resources that will support community-based and community-led efforts to build and sustain the health and resiliency of residents. This included:

  1. Ongoing COVID-19 prevention and vaccination campaigns;
  2. Health literacy and health promotion efforts (e.g.,: promoting and/or providing screenings for diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancer – screenings that many people missed during the pandemic; testing for STDs, and distributing Narcan);
  3. Mental health efforts and resources;
  4. Integrating or co-locating COVID or non-COVID health efforts with the provision of other essential needs, social and economic resources, and support
  5. Community organizing to build power for the structural change needed to bring attention and resources to community priorities.

Lessons from Vaccine Plus Partners

As we emerge from the most intense period of the pandemic, these demonstrably effective leaders and organizations are no less busy. Their communities face ongoing crises that include limited access to primary, preventive, and mental health care, the substance use disorder and gun violence epidemics, a lack of affordable housing, and food insecurity.

Did their COVID-19 response work position them for a seat at the table where decisions are being made about the resources and solutions needed to address these problems? Are they better positioned to advance long-term change as a result of the relationships, resources, and reputations that they have built since 2020?

To address these questions, in August 2023, we invited grassroots and community-based leaders from our network to engage in a discussion of the “return to normal”, how they think about power, and how it relates to and drives the health of our communities. Watch the webinar linked below to hear directly from them.

Levers for Long-Term Change: How Vaccine Plus Community-Led Health Initiatives Built Power & Strategies for the Future

from Rx Foundation’s Power is a Social Determinant of Health series

Session description: While status quo public health responses failed to effectively reach under-served communities during the coronavirus pandemic, grassroots organizations and other community-led health efforts directly connected BIPOC communities to much needed resources and care, including COVID testing, PPE, and vaccines, in addition to food, diapers, Narcan, housing and childcare assistance, and more. As we “return to normal”, we consider whether grassroots groups have gained a seat at the decision-making table since March 2020.

In a lively panel discussion featuring three of Rx Foundation’s Vaccine Plus – Community Health and Power grant partners, El CentroNew Direction Health Care Solutions, and the Organization for Black Struggle, and guided by moderator Gloria Medina of Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education (SCOPE), we discuss whether grassroots groups are better able to advance long-term change in their communities as a result of their COVID response efforts.

Vaccine Plus: New Directions Health Care Solutions in TN

Read how our grant partnership set this organization on a new trajectory, dramatically increasing its capacity to educate, test, and vaccinate Black and rural communities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.