Working Together to Get COVID Shots in Arms in Underserved Communities

The COVID-19 vaccine rollout is rolling along across most of the country. But the goal of equitable access remains a challenge, especially in underserved communities.

Last week, the CDC Foundation addressed the access issue in an engaging and informative webinar, “Working Together: Partnering with Communities to Navigate Equitable Access to COVID-19 Vaccines.” It was the fifth in a series of webinars tailored to community-based organizations (CBOs) and their partners.

The webinar covered the importance of CBO work in the COVID-19 response, particularly as it relates to the vaccine administration effort. Presenters offered strategies for expanding outreach, securing funding, working with local health departments and partner organizations, and embracing the value of community health workers, also known as promotores in many Spanish-speaking communities.

CDC Foundation Chief Medical Officer Dr. Lisa Waddell opened the event with an overview of the foundation’s equity strategy and work to support capacity building of CBOs nationwide  through its webinar series, CBO Resource Center webpage, targeted technical assistance, partnerships and funding efforts. And she encouraged the hundreds of CBOs, partners and health department workers in virtual attendance to seize the moment.

“If ever there was a time to mobilize, support, enhance and lift up the strength, the voice and power that CBOs have—now is it,” she said.

The event also featured two panels led by champions in the effort. In the first, Susan Watson, program director of the Public Health Institute’s Together Toward Health initiative discussed her work in not just funding CBOs, but also providing coordination and support to foster strength and resiliency in communities beyond the pandemic.

A beneficiary of the Together Toward Health initiative is the Leadership Council for Justice and Accountability. Its Co-Executive Director Veronica Garibay-Gonzlez, MPA, outlined how the environmental advocacy group has been able to leverage its nonpartisan electoral organizing strategies to develop a plan for community outreach in the vaccination effort, especially in rural areas. That included going door-to-door to hand out flyers, answer questions and register appointments for a mobile vaccination site the group helped set up.

The second panel focused on the critical role community health workers play in increasing vaccine uptake. Denise Smith, founding executive director of the National Association of Community Health Workers and Fiorella Horna, COVID-19 outreach project leader for El Centro Hispano in North Carolina shared tools, resources and best practices for amplifying the work of community health workers and their role in finding, teaching and connecting underserved populations. 

To learn more, you can access the webinar and related materials on our CBO Resource page


This blog post is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $45,939,536 with 100 percent funded by CDC/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by, CDC/HHS or the U.S. Government.  

Headshot of Hannah Buchdahl
Hannah Buchdahl is a COVID-19 Corps communications officer for the CDC Foundation.