(Image via The Philadelphia Gay News).
By George Fernandez
August was National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM). This annual observance highlights the important, life-saving role of vaccinations to the health and wellbeing of our society.
We need not look any further than the COVID-19 vaccine to see the substantial impact immunization against vaccine-preventable diseases has on our ability to prevent further death and devastation in our communities. What’s important, but so often overlooked, is the ability for these vaccines to reach underserved communities.
Beyond simply making such vaccines available in underserved, minority communities, we must also be intentional about building trust that these vaccines are safe, accessible, and effective. And there is one initiative in Pennsylvania that should be recognized for its relentless dedication to pursuing this mission since the day the nation declared a state of emergency.
Two years ago, on August 25, 2020, the Community Accessible Testing and Education (CATE) initiative was unveiled alongside its founding partners, Latino Connection, Highmark Blue Shield, Highmark Wholecare (formerly Gateway Health), and the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Since its launch, CATE has hosted 423 around the Commonwealth, providing 12,266 COVID-19 vaccinations and 25,650 COVID-19 testing kits. The initiative has reached tens of thousands of people, especially in areas where access to bilingual resources and education are not readily available.
As Pennsylvania’s first initiative of its kind, CATE’s vast reach and influence in just 24 months underscores the importance of immunization awareness.
Many of the individuals served by CATE had limitations and barriers that would have otherwise prevented them from receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, transportation and language being among the largest. CATE strategically selected locations in underserved communities that were accessible by walking or public transportation. And every event was equipped with bilingual staff and resources in both English and Spanish.
CATE’s two-year anniversary is an important mile-marker to recognize the initiative’s major advances toward closing the gap on health disparities in the face of a global pandemic.
With a proven track record of successful community outreach and activation under its belt, CATE is a model for what can be accomplished for other health initiatives that seek to reach diverse and underserved populations. And the real success lies in partnerships. CATE was powered by funding and support received from more than 200 community partners, the longest standing being Highmark Wholecare.
In observance of NIAM and CATE’s two-year anniversary, it’s important to remember that COVID-19 is still actively spreading at high rates and millions of Americans have yet to receive a vaccine. CATE has no plans to let up on the gas. The mobile unit will continue to host events across Pennsylvania through 2022, closing the gap on health disparities with every mile logged.
More information about CATE and upcoming events can be found at www.catemobileunit.com.
George Fernandez is the founder and CEO of Latino Connection, a national leader in community education, health outreach, and wellness programming focused on reaching low-income, uninsured communities. He writes from York, Pa.
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