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American Rescue Plan money to help build vaccine trust in Buffalo’s Black and Brown communities

Dr. Myron Glick
Tom Dinki
Dr. Myron Glick, founder and CEO of Jericho Road Community Health Center, speaks to the media Aug. 13, 2021, about an American Rescue Plan grant meant to help increase the COVID-19 vaccination rate in Buffalo's Black and Brown communities.

When federal and state governments first prioritized getting COVID-19 vaccines to Black and Brown communities, Takesha Leonard of Jericho Road Community Health Care Center in Buffalo heard a common concern from her patients.

“‘Why would they want to do us first?’” she recalled. “‘Why would they want us to be vaccinated first? Is it because they want to see what happens to us and then they'll kind of reach out to the Caucasian, white community and then vaccinate them?’”

Black people account for 13% of all Erie County residents, but only 9% of its vaccinated residents. The Black vaccination rate is lower in many parts of the country, as just 38% of Black people nationwide are vaccinated, compared to nearly 50% of white people.

“If you don't develop that trusting relationship, then they're going to remain hesitant,” Leonard said.

Jericho Road may have an easier time developing those relationships, thanks to a $658,000 grant from the federal government. It’s part of $120 million in the American Rescue Plan set aside for increasing vaccination rates in underserved communities.

Dr. Myron Glick, Jericho Road’s founder and CEO, called the money “a game changer for this community.” He said it will be used for his staff to do vaccine outreach, going door to door and visit places like churches and community centers.

“The easy part is done now, right? There's enough vaccines for folks out there. So now we have to do our best to convince people one at a time that the shot is the right health care decision for them,” he said. “And this grant will give us the resources we need to do this job and to do it well.”

Jericho Road has already had some success getting people vaccinated. Glick said the center has given out over 27,000 vaccines, more than 70% of which have gone to Black and Brown people and refugees.

However, Glick also knows the hesitancy among those groups firsthand. It’s even present among his staff of 370 people. Glick said about 80% of his white staff are vaccinated, while only about 65% percent of its Latino staff are. Only about half of his Black staff are vaccinated.

“And I suspect that that reflects the community we serve and live in,” Glick said.

For Leonard, who is medical director of Jericho Road’s Doat Street location, she got the shot in part to help convince her patients that it’s safe.

“If anything happened, my patients know that I was going to tell them the truth and be absolutely honest with them,” she said. “I believed in it, but I needed to get it in order to show them that it was safe and it was effective.”

She added that vaccine outreach is not just about convincing those hesitant that they’re wrong, it’s about listening to their concerns.

“So when we have those conversations, they're bringing up all the things that they've heard on the internet, on social media, from their neighbor next door or whoever they heard from,” she said. “And our job is to build that trust and then combat those myths. Because if we don't do that first step first, we're never going to get to that second one.”

Jericho Road plans to use the grant to speak with 5,000 people, and ultimately get at least 1,000 of them vaccinated.

Tom Dinki joined WBFO in August 2019 to cover issues affecting older adults.