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Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center on Thursday joined the Niagara Falls Health Equity Task Force, a group consisting of more than 20 nonprofit leaders, in an innovative effort to provide the COVID-19 vaccine to people of color who reside in city neighborhoods and meet the state requirements for priority 1A or 1B vaccine recipients.
The community-based clinic was part of an initiative supported by the Western New York Vaccine Hub, the group charged with coordinating vaccine distribution across Western New York. The hub sent the vaccine to Niagara Falls on condition that it be used to vaccinate qualifying people of color with a focus on the elderly and medically vulnerable.
The effort is designed to address data that show there are vaccination disparities among this targeted population.
“We knew we could take some big steps forward if we combined our efforts in some meaningful ways,” said the Rev. Craig D. Pridgen, senior pastor of the Niagara Experience of True Bethel Church and president of the Niagara Ministerial Council, a task force member.
The event was coordinated by the task force and Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center.
“We are acutely aware of the impact of care disparities in patients we see who are people of color,” said Memorial President and CEO Joseph A. Ruffolo. “Efforts such as this are extremely important in addressing such disparities for those afflicted by COVID-19 and we welcome the opportunity to participate.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, long-standing systemic health and social inequities have put many people from underserved racial and ethnic groups at increased risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19. The term “racial and ethnic” includes people of color, the CDC notes.
Thursday’s vaccine clinic took place at the Henry E. Wrobel Towers, a Niagara Falls Housing Authority community, with the support of Mayor Robert Restaino.
“As our community continues the fight against COVID-19, it's more important than ever that all of us obtain the vaccine as more becomes available. This event is especially important as it focuses on the populations most at risk,” Restaino said. “Thanks to the Niagara Falls Health Equity Task Force and NFMMC for organizing this distribution opportunity.”
Housing Authority Executive Director Clifford Scott emphasized the need to be vigilant and protect each other.
“As we move toward getting our communities and businesses back to normal, it is important that we use innovative outreach strategies to reach everyone who wants a COVID-19 vaccine,” said Dr. Rolanda L. Ward, facilitator of the task force. “Our group will continuously advocate for the equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine.”
Thursday’s effort was coordinated by the Niagara Falls Health Equity Task Force and Ward, an associate professor of social work and director of the Rose Bente Lee Ostapenko Center for Race, Equity, and Mission at Niagara University.
In late January, Ward convinced members of the Western New York Vaccine Hub to try something new and try it in Niagara Falls where there is a substantial population of people of color, many of them elderly, who are medically underserved.
The task force was formed in June in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to promote care accessibility and better health outcomes for people of color. The 30-member multidisciplinary group includes representatives from health care, education, community services and government. It holds virtual meetings each Monday.