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$1 million awarded to take COVID-19 vaccine outreach ‘to the streets’

Racquel Stephen

A grant of $1 million dollars is headed to the Finger Lakes COVID-19 vaccination program. The money comes from the various foundations, businesses and nonprofits. The list includes Wegmans, ESL Federal Credit Union, United Way of Greater Rochester, Paychex, Greater Rochester Health Foundation, and Konar Foundation.

The program started in January with a goal to get 70% of the Finger Lakes Region vaccinated. The latest data shows that around 63% of people over 12 have received at least one dose. 

At a news conference Monday, United Way CEO Jamie Saunders said the goal is to inform and offer vaccines to underserved and hard to reach populations across nine counties.

“Our efforts at scale have reached a tipping point. Now we are shifting strategies to smaller, more targeted outreach,” said Saunders. “While the 70% statewide vaccination rate is to be celebrated, there remains vast disparities and gaps within our region and community where rates are much, much lower.”

Common Ground Health CEO Wade Norwood agrees, saying many affluent ZIP codes have a much higher rate of vaccination than poorer areas both in urban and rural areas. He said the new round of funding is vital and will be used to reach those people. 

“Our job is far from over,” said Norwood. “When we look more deeply into our local vaccination data, we find that at every layer, there's a more complex story and it makes us want to cry.”

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Monroe County Health Commissioner Mike Mendoza equated the next phase of COVID-19 vaccine outreach to a Doobie Brothers song.

“We now need to ‘take it to the streets,’” said Mendoza. “(The COVID-19 pandemic) is not over. The funds being announced today will go a long way toward helping us reach deep into these communities to provide information, education and easy access to the vaccines.”

The funding will help hire 22 people to do outreach for the program across the nine county area.


James Brown is a reporter with WXXI News. James previously spent a decade in marketing communications, while freelance writing for CITY Newspaper. While at CITY, his reporting focused primarily on arts and entertainment.