New Community is one of the community organizations working to ensure residents of color have access to COVID-19 vaccines through the Newark Equitable Vaccine Initiative. The initiative kicked off on March 23 with a community vaccination event in the parking lot of the IHOP on Bergen Street.
New Community’s Health and Human Services Department was instrumental in helping to ensure the event’s success. The department’s community health workers (CHWs) registered individuals for vaccine appointments prior to the event and were on site to help check in vaccine recipients, alongside representatives from Urban League of Essex County, which was a partner with NCC in executing the plan for the day. Event participants also received information about free COVID-19 crisis counseling that is available through Family Service Bureau of Newark (FSB). New Community’s Security Department provided transportation for NCC residents who had vaccine appointments at the event.
“This is another in the list of cooperative efforts between government, business and the nonprofit community to get those who face challenges vaccinated,” said New Community CEO Richard Rohrman. “The level of cooperation and shared urgency has been something that is encouraging and shows us what we are capable of as a unified group. We were happy to be able to transport people to the event. This initiative is another much needed avenue to help us reach our shared goal of vaccinating as many residents as possible.”
NCC Chief Operating Officer Fred Hunter attended the kickoff event and spoke about how New Community serves a large population of people of color and has made vaccine education and distribution a priority.
“There are many different areas of New Community that are instrumental in getting the message out about the importance of getting folks vaccinated,” he said.
In addition to helping with the community vaccination event, New Community, with the assistance of area pharmacies and the City of Newark Department of Health, has offered vaccines to residents and staff members at its senior housing buildings and skilled nursing facility. Education surrounding the vaccines for residents and staff members is ongoing.
“Vulnerable seniors in our nursing home and senior buildings were vaccinated in their homes,” Rohrman said. “The Newark Health Department has been outstanding.”
New Community Chief of Health and Human Services Arti Kakkar emphasized the importance of education and accessibility.
“When it comes to disparities in health, it is important to note for future endeavors why it exists because that needs to be addressed. When it comes to vaccination efforts, we need to make it easily accessible for Newark residents to be able to meet the vaccination goals set by the county and the state,” she said. “For successful implementation of a vaccination program, I strongly believe we need to address the hesitancy around the vaccines by community education, which we are doing with our community health workers, and also address emotional issues and anxiety that we are addressing through our crisis counseling support through FSB.”
Data supports the assertion that increased education and access to vaccinations for communities of color are important to help put an end to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time of the kickoff event, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said that less than 5 percent of the Newark population had been fully vaccinated.
“With something like this, we’re providing access to people to get the vaccination, particularly in neighborhoods where people are more likely to die from COVID-19,” Baraka said. “These communities are three times more likely to succumb to the coronavirus and 10 times less likely to take the vaccine, which is why this event is extremely important.”
Funding for the Newark Equitable Vaccine Initiative comes from a $1 million grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to United Way of Greater Newark.
“The Newark Equitable Vaccine Initiative leverages Newark’s best resources for building equity and increasing access to the community,” said United Way of Greater Newark President and CEO Catherine Wilson. “It brings together local health care providers, community-based organizations, small business owners, clergy, elected officials and concerned citizens all working together to coordinate on distribution, connect residents with providers, share resources and promote accurate health information.”
Having a group of entities working together to help to educate and vaccinate the community will hopefully increase vaccine participation.
“No one organization, no one government can do this alone,” said Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo. “I want to see everyone engaged in this.”
Dr. Shereef Elnahal, president and CEO of University Hospital, told those in attendance that he and his staff have seen firsthand the devastating effect COVID-19 has had on communities of color. Because infections continue, he said the efforts of the Newark Equitable Vaccine Initiative are vital to fighting the virus.
“This pandemic is not over and its impact on Black and brown people has not ended,” Elnahal said. “We have to do this. We have to start now and we have to work together.”
Adenah Bayoh, IHOP Multi-Franchise Owner and Cornbread Co-Founder, allowed her Bergen Street IHOP location’s parking lot to serve as the kickoff event location. She was born and raised in Newark and volunteered at University Hospital when she was 12 years old. She said the initiative is personal to her and very important.
“I would shut down IHOP if I had to to make sure more people in the community get vaccinated,” she said.
Personnel from Rite Aid and Newark Community Health Center were on hand to administer vaccines throughout the day of the kickoff.
Rite Aid Division Vice President Margherita R. Cardello said the pharmacy is happy to be a part of the Newark Equitable Vaccine Initiative to increase access to information and vaccinations.
“It’s only possible with community groups and businesses working together seamlessly for the greater good,” she said.