CDC Foundation Staff Support Vaccine Innovations

If there was ever any question the COVID-19 vaccine program has had a positive effect on the pandemic, an April 2022 report by Yale School of Public Health research scientists and others from the Commonwealth Fund provides proof: it estimates that 2.3 million U.S. lives have been saved by the vaccines, which have been shown to be safe and effective.

The recently approved vaccine for children under five should be a cause for even more celebration. However, a July 2022 Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 43 percent of parents aren't planning to vaccinate their children, up from 27 percent in April. In addition, statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that 10 percent of the U.S. population is still exhibiting significant vaccine hesitancy.

Health departments across the country, many with the aid of CDC Foundation Workforce and Vaccine Initiative staff and community partners, continue to develop innovative strategies to increase uptake and address relevant health equity issues in their jurisdictions.

The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) has added half a dozen mobile vaccination units to their COVID-19 response.

Olivia Brown, vaccine program manager, and Emilio Bloch, health equity coordinator.

For instance, the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) has put an impactful initiative on the road by adding half a dozen mobile vaccination units to their COVID-19 response, providing shots—and as importantly, personal contact—to a wide range of neighborhoods at more than 100 sites around the state.

Olivia Brown, who was inspired to join the CDC Foundation as a vaccine program manager after losing her grandmother to COVID, helps run the program: “When we go into some of these communities where there’s resistance, people are more likely to get vaccinated once they sit down and ask their questions directly, instead of getting their information online or on social media. I’ve seen a case where a parent was just inquiring about the shot and once they had a bit of education, they consented to have their child vaccinated.”

People are more likely to get vaccinated once they sit down and ask their questions directly, instead of getting their information online or on social media.

Emilio Bloch, a CDC Foundation health equity coordinator, is also assigned to the mobile vaccination unit project at ODH and analyzes data to make sure the vans go where they’ll have the most impact. “Initial targeting was based on vaccination rates, as well as the social vulnerability index,” Bloch said. This index ranks how a community’s health outcomes are likely to be affected by factors like socioeconomic status, housing type, transportation access, and more.

As Bloch explained, “We just simply took the top 30 census tracts in the state with the lowest vaccination rates and the highest social vulnerability index scores and used those as our first areas for outreach and focus. After that, we went to a population-based focus reaching out to organizations that we know serve vulnerable communities.”

Those neighborhood partnerships include community-based organizations supporting people with disabilities and migrant farmworkers, along with schools, local health clinics, county fairs, religious groups and the local chapters of the NAACP.

Go Team Therapy dogs provide comfort to kids and adults in schools, hospitals and other potentially stressful settings.

The local Go Team Therapy group in Frederick County, MD, led by Francina Baldi, began bringing her pre-screened canines and volunteers to COVID-19 vaccine events every Wednesday and Saturday.

The dogs of Go Team Therapy help ease the fears and brighten the days of community and staff members alike.

Carmen Combs, health equity project manager

In Frederick County, MD, they’ve seen community interest in their COVID-19 vaccine program rise as well, thanks to a very special, and very furry, group of attendees visiting the Frederick County Health Department’s twice-a-week clinics.

With chapters in several states, Go Team Therapy dogs provide comfort to kids and adults in schools, hospitals and other potentially stressful settings. The local group, led by Francina Baldi, began bringing their pre-screened canines and volunteers to the events every Wednesday and Saturday, easing the fears and brightening the days of community and staff members alike.

CDC Foundation Public Health Nurse Faith Henry, who staffs the county events, explained, “So now if a child is very anxious or crying, we can offer a private room, and a dog can sit with them while they are getting vaccinated.” That’s proven important in securing return visits for all-important follow-up shots and boosters as well.

Baldi added, “The feedback has been wonderful. We just love it when a child comes back into the clinic for a second visit and says, ‘I'm not afraid now.’”

Catalina Alvear, the COVID-19 program manager who leads this initiative at the Frederick County Health Department, has seen attendance grow through word of mouth and social media. “It has been such a game changer in so many respects,” she reported, with more than 1,000 families receiving vaccines at the clinic since the dogs made their first appearance in December 2021.

As a former Family Resources and Services Center coordinator in Kentucky, CDC Foundation Health Equity Project Manager Carmen Combs leveraged her community contacts to connect her colleagues and staff at the Kentucky Department for Public Health (KDPH) with organizations like the Kentucky High School Athletic Association (KHSAA), a non-profit group that helps manage sports for 280 member schools in the state. The KDPH teamed with the KHSAA for two weekends in June 2022 at a statewide athletic meet where they staged a successful clinic aimed at the entire family with more than 700 vaccines given.

“Vaccinating children leads to parents being vaccinated. And we saw a lot of people coming in who weren’t athletes because they saw it advertised,” Combs said. The large crowd was also incentivized with a $25 per person gas card, and the event even became the lead story on a local newscast.

It’s this kind of creativity, compassion and community partnerships that are helping CDC Foundation staff and public health departments across the United States find ways to ensure their communities have equal access to vaccines, now and in the future.