Three women smiling and holding trophies
ClearHealthCosts founder and CEO Jeanne Pinder, Epicenter-NYC publisher S. Mitra Kalita and community coordinator Adriana Proaño, displayng their LION Publishers public service awards Oct. 3 in Durham, N.C.

Our partnership with Epicenter-NYC and TBN24 to deliver Covid vaccines in an undervaccinated neighborhood in New York City’s borough of Queens won the 2023 top public service award from LION Publishers.

We launched our partnership under a grant in July 2021, working with two New York-based news organizations,  Epicenter-NYC, a Queens hyperlocal, and TBN24, serving the Bangladeshi emigre community. This work in Queens Village, a part of the New York City borough of Queens that borders on Long Island and occupies zip code 11429, was part of a grant called the Vaccine Equity Partner Engagement, with the Fund for Public Health of New York City, using Centers for Disease Control money, in partnership with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene of New York City.

“Journalism, at its core, is a form of community service, and this trio went above and beyond by not only highlighting disparities but also providing services that had a transformative and potentially life-saving impact on people’s lives,” said the judges for the prize, in the small revenue tier. 

The grant was an outgrowth of our previous work reporting on the vaccine delivery. Our grant-funded Queens Village V.E.P.E. work was part of a strategy to encourage vaccine delivery to underserved neighborhoods in the New York City Taskforce for Racial Inclusion and Equity neighborhoods, the places that were hardest hit by Covid.

Using grant funds, we found partners in a vaccine van run by New York City Health + Hospitals that parked near the church of another partner, Ss. Joachim and Anne Roman Catholic Church in Queens Village, making free, no-appointment vaccine and testing available every Wednesday and Sunday for 18 months. Under the program, we provided support staff, logistics and publicity for the van, where thousands of people were vaccinated and tested, at a time when vaccines and testing were sometimes hard to get and sometimes costly.

LION is a group of independent online publishers in the United States and Canada, strengthening the local news industry by helping independent news publishers build more sustainable businesses.Their “Southeast Sustainability” gathering in Durham, N.C., Oct. 3-4 included an awards dinner and ceremony.

Our vaccine partnership previously won the “best audience listening strategy” from the Local Media Association. “This project is truly inspiring,” the judges said. “Partnering with two other news organizations to bring a life-saving vaccine to a community in need brings new meaning to journalism’s mission of ‘serving the public.’ … This line right here says it all: ‘Meeting people where they are. Engagement. Listening.’ This is how journalism changes peoples’ lives.”

The Local Media Association works with more than 3,000 newspapers, broadcasters, digital news sites and other partners.

Our partnership work

The V.E.P.E. program’s work changed with the circumstances. Initially vaccine persuasion and delivery were the goals; then testing became one of the deliverables; then delivering information about broader topics like primary care, education, financial aid, food insecurity and legal consultations became part of the program.

Our work first consisted of establishing a relationship with New York Health + Hospitals, the public hospital group in the city, which scheduled the mobile van to come to the neighborhood to deliver vaccines and testing in September 2021. Residents of this neighborhood had not had easy access to vaccines or testing, so they welcomed our site, just outside the church at the corner of Robard Lane and Hollis Avenue, near Wayanda Park, 217-72 Hollis Ave., Queens Village, N.Y.

Arranging the van’s appearance was complicated, because the staff needed to have a wireless connection and also restroom availability. The church supplied that and became our home base in the community, from which we were able to reach out to local businesses, schools and individuals.

Adriana Proaño, was team captain for the crew on the ground in Queens Village. She staffed the effort, kept schedules, maintained relations with Health + Hospitals and the church, sought out efforts to expand our distribution, and kept the traffic running smoothly, even in the frantic early days of vaccine shortages and the high-pressure Omicron surge.

The first V.E.P.E. grant was issued in July 2021; it was renewed in January 2022, and renewed again in June 2022, ending in December 2022. Our staff members on the ground supported the team of health care providers in the van, and also distributed home test kits, masks, hand sanitizer, gloves and so on to people coming to get tested and vaccinated, as well as to the parishioners at the church, schools and business in the neighborhood and other members of the community.

This vaccine grant came about organically. In early 2021, we reported intensively on the disaster that was the vaccine rollout, and began offering solutions and sharing information to our community members and locally and nationwide with a collaborative of “vaccine angels” in Manhattan, Maryland, Chicago, San Diego, northern Westchester, Boston and elsewhere. Epicenter, a Queens hyperlocal news organization founded in 2020 shortly after the start of the pandemic, had efforts including a hotline scheduling vaccine appointments and reporting in our communities and nationwide.

Other work under the grant included SMS and dedicated hotlines in multiple languages via Epicenter-NYC and in Bangla via TBN24; flyers with information in English, Spanish and French; weekly segments on TBN24; features and interviews across the three news organizations’ websites, podcasts and newsletters; and organizational work, grantwriting, coordination with the Fund for Public Health of NYC and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, as well as media and public relations and other critical support work, by ClearHealthCosts.

New York was extremely hard hit early on by the virus. We worked hard listening to our communities and trying to help them. Ultimately, we saw some grant offers to encourage vaccine distribution, and in partnership with Epicenter-NYC and TBN24 brought forth the Queens partnership, with New York Health + Hospitals and the Ss. Joachim and Anne church as our partners.

Read more about the partnership here.

Jeanne Pinder  is the founder and CEO of ClearHealthCosts. She worked at The New York Times for almost 25 years as a reporter, editor and human resources executive, then volunteered for a buyout and founded...