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COVID-19 Vaccine Equity Team: The Origins, The Pivot, An Active Approach & Next Steps

COVID-19 Vaccine Equity Team: The Origins

Vaccines against COVID-19 like Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson – though clinically tried, FDA approved, and CDC recommended – have failed to garner the support and participation of many, ultimately seeming to derail the national goal of herd immunity.

But why? That’s what the National Community Action Foundation (NCAF) tasked Community Action Partnerships (CAPs) with figuring out, at their respective local levels.

For Greater Bergen Community Action, the anti-poverty agency of Bergen County, NJ – the plan was simple: head out into the communities in which it serves, leverage tried-and-true relationships, and listen with the intent to gather information and design solutions based on data.

At the origin of this truth-seeking journey, the agency enlisted its long-time friend and supporter, Reverend Gregory Jackson of Mount Olive Baptist Church, to form the COVID-19 Vaccine Equity Team. Together, the team embarked on several “listening” events with nonprofit leaders; African American and Korean clergy; Black civic groups, including the Divine 9; and leaders of the LatinX community.

The initial goal was to get trusted information into the community to combat hesitancy and misinformation – but that later turned into just one objective in a fast-evolving initiative.

The Pivot

From the wide-spread community listening events, Greater Bergen discovered that hesitancy and misinformation were not paramount issues that were causing low vaccination rates; but that there were barriers to accessing appointments for communities that were hardest hit. Soon after this new revelation, Bergen New Bridge Medical Center contacted the anti-poverty organization to assist them with an issue they observed at their facility: of the many people visiting to be vaccinated against COVID-19, almost none were people of color.

The timing of Greater Bergen’s new insight on why vaccine rates, especially among people of color, were so low couldn’t have been more appropriate in the aiding of solutions to Bergen New Bridge Medical Center’s issues – and would later prove to also be relevantly beneficial to a much larger scope of problems.

Greater Bergen learned that barriers to accessing the COVID-19 vaccines included transportation; mobility; digital competency; and difficulty with the registration process. From this information, Greater Bergen’s VP of Planning, Development and Communications, Lynne Algrant, worked with the CEO of Bergen New Bridge Medical Center, Deb Visconi, to come up with an equity model, and then to eventually work towards a targeted universalism approach, which expands on equity by not only bridging gaps, but doing so in a way that still addresses everyone’s needs with a universal goal and targeted strategies in mind.

An Active Approach

Targeted Universalism is the act of “setting universal goals pursued by targeted processes to achieve those goals. Within a targeted universalism framework, universal goals are established for all groups concerned” (

This model was conceptualized by john a. powell who says, “the goal should be universal; the policies should be targeted.”

For Greater Bergen Community Action as part of the COVID-19 Vaccine Equity Team, the universal goal is to get everyone vaccinated, using policies that are targeted to address the needs of each specific group involved.

Targeted policies created by the COVID-19 Vaccine Equity Team to date include:

· A partnership between Greater Bergen and Uber to provide free rides to vaccination sites to combat transportation barriers and make the vaccine more accessible

· Scheduling appointments on behalf of senior citizens and the digitally unfamiliar to combat digital barriers

· Hosting community vaccination events in towns and neighborhoods with low percentages of vaccinated residents to combat any other unknown, new barriers

o Vaccine event held for the Ramapough Lenape Tribal Nation in Mahwah, NJ

o Vaccine event held for people of color and those in underserved communities throughout Bergen County

o Vaccine event held for Black, Asian and LatinX clergy in Bergen County

Next Steps: Cementing Relationships for Transformation

Yet while the work of the COVID-19 Vaccine Equity Team has shown impact, there is still a long way to go as far as equity and targeted universalism – in the COVID era and beyond. To really create positive change that considers and includes everyone, we must build coalitions, leverage partnerships, and work to meet individual needs towards universal goals.

If you are an influencer among people of color or underserved people in your community; a vaccine provider; or you have a vested interest in the concept of targeted universalism and would like to participate in this work, visit our Vaccine Equity page and connect with us, here:


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