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Healthy Savannah & YMCA of Coastal GA Receive $544K For COVID-19 Vaccine Initiatives

Healthy Savannah and YMCA of Coastal Georgia have been awarded $544,000 in supplemental grant funding by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The funds will be used to broaden the initiatives of the current Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) grant to focus on COVID-19 vaccine education, awareness, and acceptance.

“Our goal in administering this funding is to promote activities that support acceptance among racial and ethnic minority groups experiencing disparities in vaccination coverage in Savannah and Chatham County,” said Paula Kreissler, executive director of Healthy Savannah. “We are working with established partners to meet those goals by strengthening connections, building confidence, and breaking down barriers to access.”

Funded partners currently include the African American Health and Information Resource Center, Coastal Health District/ Chatham County Health Department, Curtis V. Cooper Primary Health Care, EPIC Health Solutions, Healthy Savannah Faith and Health Coalition, J.C. Lewis Primary Health Care Center, SJC St. Mary’s Health Center/ Good Samaritan Clinic, Carriage Trade Public Relations, and Next Step Evaluation.

Overall, the objectives of the program are to identify influential community messengers and partners and to develop community acceptable approaches for improving vaccination availability, accessibility, and confidence. Kreissler says strategies will include equipping influential messengers through education and empowerment of trusted voices in the community to support vaccine education and delivery while also increasing vaccination opportunities.

“The reality is that people in Latino and Black communities are not getting COVID-19 vaccines at the same rates as whites,” said Elsie Smalls, Ph.D., operations manager. “Some of this is a matter of access but the bigger obstacle to acceptance for many is based on their suspicions of the healthcare system or government agencies as a whole.

The Tuskegee Experiment, conducted between 1932 and 1973, was designed to observe untreated syphilis in Black men in Macon County, Alabama. Although the men who participated in the study were told that they were receiving free health care from the federal government of the United States, they were not and they were never offered treatment, which was widely available after 1947.

In Savannah, a classified military operation in the 1950s dropped hundreds of thousands of mosquitoes on the Black neighborhood of Carver Village. The secret experiment was declassified in 1980, at which time it was revealed that “Operation Big Buzz” was conducted to test the viability of deploying mosquitoes as a delivery system of disease warfare. Many believe the mosquitos used in the operation were infected with disease.

“While our goal is to elevate vaccine acceptance, we realize there is much to do to raise the level of trust,” said Nichele Hoskins.

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