HBCUs are at the forefront of COVID-19 education and vaccinations in their surrounding communities. Now, Howard University is much further along in protecting those in D.C. with a new substantial grant. Read the full story from Colleen Grablick at DCist below.

Howard University College of Medicine has received $1.59 million to build mobile vaccination units and to boost vaccinations in Black and other medically underserved communities.

The money comes from the Greenwood Initiative, a philanthropic plan from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, that’s meant to increase wealth accumulation for Black individuals and families in the U.S. Three other historically Black medical schools — Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, and Charles R. Drew University of Medicine in Los Angeles — also received funding.

The $1.59 million will be used to purchase a new mobile unit to bring vaccines to D.C. residents, and to staff a new call center that will book appointments over the phone for residents who can’t schedule online, according to a press release from the university.

The university says the mobile clinics will work with DC Health, but neither a Howard University nor a DC Health spokesperson immediately returned DCist/WAMU’s request for comment on what the partnership will look like.

Through its current efforts, Howard has vaccinated more than 25,000 people in D.C. since December.

“Howard University plays an outsized role in caring for the Black community in Washington, D.C. While this is always the case, it has been especially true during the pandemic,” Howard University President Wayne A. I. Frederick said in the release. “By helping fund our mobile unit, Bloomberg will enable us to vaccinate more of the Black community, a critical step in mitigating the effects of a devastating virus that has disproportionately affected African-American individuals.”

Despite majority-Black wards 8 and 7 recording, respectively, the first and third highest death tolls from coronavirus in the city, they have the lowest vaccination rates for residents over age 65. Since the early days of the vaccination rollout, residents in wealthier, whiter wards have received vaccines at higher rates than those in the city’s majority-Black or low-income wards.

After turning away from the beleaguered, first-come first-served registration system to the newer, wait-list like portal, D.C.’s vaccination rollout has become significantly less chaotic — but there are still hundreds of thousands of residents not yet connected with DC Health’s system.

Howard, which has been vaccinating residents at Howard University Hospital since the start of the rollout, has also been leading messaging campaigns and standing up targeted clinics to reach residents in wards with low vaccination rates. The university launched a vaccine clinic at the Mount Moriah Baptist Church in late March, vaccinating 180 residents from the Hill East neighborhood in Ward 6, where only 13% of residents have been fully vaccinated. (Georgetown, in wealthy Ward 2, boasts a resident vaccination rate of 21%.)

Unlike an online registration system that may require reliable internet connection, or booking an appointment at a DC Health pharmacy partner (which could require transportation and a flexible work schedule), the new mobile vaccine units would decrease the barriers to access by bringing vaccines directly to residents. Other pop-up style vaccination clinics — some primarily organized by community groups — have proved successful in reaching residents outside of the DC Health booking system. Walk-up sites for residents experiencing homelessness came as a relief in recent weeks for members of the community that’s faced disproportionate risks of COVID-19, and a mass vaccination effort at a Ward 8 recreation center earlier this month brought 1,000 vaccines to Southeast residents.

DC Health was planning on launching its own mobile vaccination program for homebound residents in the coming weeks, but D.C. Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt said on Tuesday that the effort will now be delayed due to the pause in the administration of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the recommendation of federal health officials.