NIAGARA FALLS — Western New York Congressman Brian Higgins (D-Buffalo/Niagara Falls) announced at a new conference Thursday that Catholic Health has been awarded $880,000 in American Rescue Plan funding to address COVID-19 vaccine disparities in Niagara County.
The funding will target vaccination efforts in the Falls, where a lack of access to vaccine resources and widespread vaccine hesitancy has prevented the community from reaching optimal vaccination rates.
“Vaccine hesitancy is a very real challenge in Western New York," Higgins said. "With this American Rescue Plan funding, Catholic Health and project partners can build relationships within hard-to-reach communities to calm fears or answer questions associated with the COVID-19 vaccine and then follow up with access to resources.”
Catholic Health, through its Niagara County operations at Mount St. Mary’s Hospital in Lewiston, and in collaboration with project partners including Niagara University, Northpointe Council Inc., and Pinnacle Community Services, will identify “hotspots” in Niagara County where residents have the greatest need for education and outreach about the COVID-19 vaccine.
“The vaccine is our best defense against this horrible disease," Higgins said. "This collaborative initiative will support community outreach relaying the importance and effectiveness of the vaccine.”
Community outreach workers will be hired and trained to increase the understanding of COVID-19 prevention in targeted communities. They will also look to increase the number of residents in the Falls and surrounding communities who are willing to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and then link those residents to community resources, including transportation if needed, to access vaccine distribution points.
“This funding will allow us to continue and expand our health and safety outreach programs in vulnerable areas of Niagara County,” Mark Sullivan, president & CEO of Catholic Health, said. “We are also honored to be collaborating with like-minded organizations that have strong community ties. They will be vital partners in the roll-out of this effort to provide education, resources, and ultimately, vaccinations.”
Data from the New York States Health Department shows 58% of the state’s population is fully vaccinated and 65% have at least one dose. But in the Falls there are several zip codes (including 14301, 14303, and 14305) where under 50% of the population has at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and even fewer are fully vaccinated.
“The work of community partners is essential to keeping residents safe during this ongoing pandemic," Dr. Rolanda Ward, director of the Rose Bente Lee Ostapenko Center for Race, Equity & Mission at Niagara University, said. "Catholic Health, Pinnacle, Northpointe, as well as the members of the Niagara Falls Health Equity Task Force, are committed to building a strong culture of health in every neighborhood across the entire county.”