To promote vaccine equity, the United Way of Santa Barbara County has launched an outreach effort to engage underserved communities with the tools and knowledge to get their shot in the arm.
In Santa Barbara County, Latinx communities represent 48% of the county’s population, but have experienced 59% of the county’s COVID-19 cases, 67% of hospitalizations and 50% of deaths, according to County Public Health Department data.
In addition, the Latinx community accounts for about 33% of the county’s vaccinations, demonstrating that there remains a large sector of the population still in need of inoculation.
To increase the vaccination rate among the Latinx population and other underserved communities, the United Way is using donations from its Critical Needs Fund to invest resources into local nonprofits who can contact and engage these hard to reach communities.
The funds from the United Way will help local organizations develop culturally relevant messaging and targeted advertising, conduct door-to-door canvassing, organize phone banking, connect people with transportation services and distribute educational literature about vaccine safety.
Through these efforts, the United Way is hopeful this investment will address barriers that contribute to vaccine inequity in the county, such as misinformation or conspiracy theories, fear of interacting with government or health systems, perceived threats to immigration status, lack of access to technology and transportation complications.
“We know that for us to have a healthy community in Santa Barbara County, getting more people to get vaccinated is key, especially to return to a more state of normalcy in our community and getting business reopened as well,” Steve Ortiz, the president and CEO of the United Way, told the News-Press. “So for us, our mission is to support our community in times of need, and during a normal year, we’re supporting our community to make sure it’s healthy and successful.”
Over the past year, the United Way played a leading role in responding to the COVID-19 crisis by funding various response efforts through the CNF, a philanthropic funding source that distributes donations to designated organizations to address health related challenges. During the pandemic, the CNF helped to sponsor 25 culturally/linguistically qualified employees from the Family Services Agency to help expand the Public Health Department’s contact tracing program.
Aside from efforts associated with the CNF, the United Way also provided more than $15 million in relief funds to more than 6,000 households in the county. This included funds to access childcare and cover rent and utility expenses for families hit hardest by the pandemic.
“I think we are creating hope for a lot of our community members through these programs,” Mr. Ortiz said. “Many are really struggling or stressed out with what the pandemic is causing to their household, and the ability to receive a grant to have WiFi, to have a Care Center for their kids creates that hope they need to carry on. A lot of help is still needed and will continue to be needed through 2022, I’m sure, but we’re able to create a moment of relief for these households so they can figure out what the next steps will be for them.”