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Grassroots push for more COVID-19 vaccines in Buffalo Black and Brown communities

Thomas O'Neil-White

Acknowledging that racism is a public health threat to communities of color, the Buffalo Common Council and local healthcare advocacy groups are prioritizing the equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine to the city’s Black and Brown communities.

The acknowledgement is part of a larger challenge to the pervasiveness of systemic racism, with health care being one of its pillars.

Even with a current shortage of the vaccine in Erie County, Healthcare Education Project Advocate Asim Johnson said the collaboration is determined to have the vaccine distributed through community healthcare organizations first.

“Like Jericho Road,” he said. “The Community Health Network and GBUAHN (Greater Buffalo United Accountable Healthcare Network), because at the end of the day, rather than community members having to go to the Medical Campus or Walgreens or CVS, we feel that it’s important for residents to feel comfortable and be able to have honest conversations with the providers that they have conversations with on a daily basis in their own community.”

Johnson said this is a three-pronged, grassroots approach to getting word to the highest levels of state and federal government about the need for more vaccines.

“The city has been speaking with Sen. Tim Kennedy’s Office,” he said, “as well as Assemblymember [Jonathan] Rivera to also ensure that our congressional representative, Brian Higgins, is aware of the need for the vaccine to be distributed equitably and for the need to increase the amount of vaccines available to residents of the City of Buffalo.”

Johnson said his organization is rolling out four town hall meetings in February and March, discussing the vaccine and ways to improve community health. Registration for the town halls can be found here.

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Thomas moved to Western New York at the age of 14. A graduate of Buffalo State College, he majored in Communications Studies and was part of the sports staff for WBNY. When not following his beloved University of Kentucky Wildcats and Boston Red Sox, Thomas enjoys coaching youth basketball, reading Tolkien novels and seeing live music.
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