May 25, 2021
Baltimore Sun
How Danielle Torain, director of Baltimore’s Open Society Institute, fights disparities in COVID vaccine distribution

This past January, Maryland was ranked 47th out of 50 for COVID-19 vaccine distribution. Now, the state is in ninth place.

In April, OSI formed a partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation, a 108-year-old philanthropy based in New York City that tries to solve global problems, such as climate change and gender inequality, to address inequities in the distribution of the coronavirus vaccine.

People in the Black, Indigenous and people of color, or BIPOC, community are being hospitalized at rates 2.8 to 3.5 times that of white people, according to the CDC. White people, meanwhile, appear to be getting vaccinated more. Of those who have received at least one dose and whose race is known, 62% are white, 13% are Hispanic and 9% are Black, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

“We want zero disparities between BIPOC and non-BIPOC populations,” said Otis Rolley, senior vice president for the Rockefeller Foundation’s U.S. Equity and Economic Opportunity Initiative. “We wanted to take a hyperlocal approach designed with ground-level information.”

As the extent of COVID disparities became more evident, the Rockefeller Foundation established the Equity First Vaccine Initiative, which allocated a total of $20 million to five U.S. cities, including Baltimore, to distribute vaccines to areas without them.

The Rev. Terris King is the pastor at Liberty Grace Church of God in Ashburton. He is one of the leaders of an organization called Act Now Baltimore, a partner with OSI that is helping people connect to information and pop-up clinics to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Since the fall of 2020, King said, he has brought science to the sanctuary by talking with people inside and outside his congregation about hesitancy related to both the flu and COVID-19 vaccines, and the strained relationship between people of color and the medical community.

He would start by asking questions such as “Do you think COVID-19 is real?” and “Do you think COVID-19 is something you can get twice?”

The conversations would end with his acknowledging his listeners’ fears and hesitations, providing information about the vaccine and telling them what to expect, and encouraging people to get the shot.

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