The messy and confusing distribution of vaccines has prompted a broad array of nonprofits and volunteers nationwide to step in to fill the gaps.
Disaster-relief charities are providing both their equipment and their logistical skills. They know how crises can exacerbate existing inequities — and how their expertise can make a big difference.
Meanwhile, organizations that serve people of color, LGTBQ people, the homeless, elderly and others are jumping into the fray. They are seeking not only to reduce the fear of vaccines but also to help local and state governments vaccinate more people.
Nonprofits are also racing to deploy young volunteers who have the patience and computer savvy to overcome the torturous vaccine portals that have bewildered many people in search of shots.
In Southern California, Community Organized Relief Effort, a nonprofit founded by the actor Sean Penn to work in Haiti, is now collaborating with the Los Angeles mayor’s office and fire department to run COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites throughout the city.
So far, more than 342,000 shots have been administered at sites run by CORE — more than 171,000 doses at its mass-vaccination site at Dodger Stadium.
When CORE realized mostly white and affluent people were showing up at Dodger Stadium, it quickly decided to take vaccines into low-income neighborhoods that are home to predominantly Hispanic and Black people, who have been hardest hit by COVID-19.
CORE hires neighborhood residents to spread the word about the opportunity to get vaccinated close to home. It has outfitted vehicles with medical-grade refrigerators so it can set up clinics on sidewalks and in church parking lots. At every pop-up vaccination site, CORE has bilingual staff members available to assist those who speak only Spanish.
To date, 70 percent of the people who have received a COVID-19 vaccine at a CORE mobile vaccination unit have been Black.
CORE plans to take what it is learning in Los Angeles — especially about how to reach more people of color — to cities such as Atlanta and New Orleans and rural regions like the Navajo Nation.
Team Rubicon, a nonprofit that deploys military veterans to assist in disaster relief, is also using its logistical savvy to bolster vaccination efforts.
In December, one of its volunteers — the emergency medical officer at Tucson Medical Center — helped the charity launch a pilot mass-vaccination program in Pima County, Arizona.
While health-care professionals handle inoculations, Team Rubicon volunteers manage operations — setting up tents at the vaccination site, directing traffic, and handing out information on the vaccine, says Art delaCruz, chief operating officer of the nonprofit.
DelaCruz says fewer Team Rubicon volunteers were able to help out last fall because they were at risk of contracting a severe case of COVID-19. But if more Americans are inoculated quickly, more people will be able to volunteer safely during the fall hurricane season.
“If this goes smoothly, we’ll actually serve more communities in the fall,” he says.
Volunteers power many nonprofits’ efforts to support vaccine distribution. In Washington, D.C., the Edlavitch Jewish Community Center tapped students from the George Washington University chapter of the Jewish campus-life group, Hillel, to manage its work to assist older people in securing vaccination appointments.
The collaboration inspired Repair the World, a national Jewish relief organization, to launch similar efforts nationwide that will encourage young adults to volunteer to help those in need get shots. And the Washington project now collaborates with other local social-service nonprofits to help the homeless, refugees, and low-income people — not just older adults — access vaccines.
Just over a month after the project launched, 1,088 people in the Washington area had signed up to get the group’s help. To date, volunteers have secured 340 vaccine appointments for people in need.
“Getting vaccinated liberates me to see and hug my adult children and grandchildren after a painfully long wait,” one older adult wrote in a thank you note to the group.
Nonprofits are also working to build trust in the vaccines.
Colorado LGBTQ nonprofit Out Boulder County is gearing up to manage a vaccination site, which will give the group the chance to respond to fear of bias that causes some LGBTQ people to avoid doctors.
The organization polled people in the Denver and Boulder areas about their level of confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine. Seventeen percent of LGBTQ respondents said they weren’t sure whether they’d accept an inoculation if it was made immediately available to them. Among those who didn’t identify as LGBTQ, that share dropped to 9 percent.
The Out Boulder County vaccine site will run its own multilingual registration process, aimed at reaching LGBTQ people and the area’s large Hispanic and Nepali populations. Registering for a vaccine through the charity — rather than the county — will build trust and ensure accessibility, Moore says.
The data Out Boulder County collected helped get the group a seat at the table with local policy makers, Moore says. “We were able to get to those tables and say, ‘Hey, what about us?’ ”
This article was provided to The Associated Press by the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Emily Haynes is a staff writer at the Chronicle. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The AP and the Chronicle receive support from the Lilly Endowment for coverage of philanthropy and nonprofits. The AP and the Chronicle are solely responsible for all content.