Vicksburg’s COVID-19 literacy program gets national attention

Published 1:59 pm Friday, January 21, 2022

Vicksburg’s COVID-19 literacy program has been selected by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Minority Health as one of two model organizations promoting COVID-19 and health education.

“We were selected as the rural grantee,” said Felicia Kent, the city’s program director. “We shared our knowledge with the other grantees in hopes to build their capacity to have similar success like us.”

Kent said Vicksburg’s program was selected on the basis of a report and presentation presented to federal officials.

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The city’s COVID-19 literacy program, “COVID-19 Champions,” began in July and is a joint partnership of the city, the Jackson-Hinds Comprehensive Health Center and Jackson State University. The two-year program is one of 72 COVID-19 literacy programs in the country and is funded by a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health.

Its goal is to implement and advance health literacy concerning COVID-19.

“It’s a two-year demonstration project,” Kent said. “We are definitely in the implementation stage and we have been very successful working in the community with local community-based organizations. We also work with 15 churches and we’ve been able to conduct health literacy and COVID-19 testing and vaccination events and other social health events that have had an impact on the residents.”

Being a demonstration program, Kent said, provides an opportunity for program officials to identify successful avenues where city government can work with local health partners to enhance literacy and health and wellness among residents.

Before the project began, she said, the COVID vaccination rate in Warren County was 30 percent. Presently, approximately 55 percent of the county’s residents are vaccinated.

Kent said the increase was the result of “working with the local community partners, empowering the residents with factual information regarding COVID, making testing and vaccinations more accessible and more available.

“We meet people where they are,” she said. “We partnered with the Vicksburg ministerial alliance and through that partnership, we selected 15 churches. We worked with the pastors to organize and conduct outreach events in underserved communities. We worked with our residents to get buy-in and feedback in terms of the direction of the program.”

Although COVID-19 awareness is the central goal of the program, Kent said the project is geared toward addressing other issues in the community to improve the quality of life and the health of residents.

The project includes partnering with local organizations for rental assistance, holding clothing drives, health screening and food drives.

“We’re concerned about the totality of the individual,” Kent said. “Not just getting them vaccinated; getting them healthy, getting them whole as individuals. I truly believe that the growth and prosperity of a city are highly dependent on the health and wellness of its residents.”

To meet that goal, COVID-19 Champions has moved away from mandates.

“We believe in aggressively raising public awareness; the impact of being a healthier community and empower people to make better decisions regarding their health,” Kent said. “Empowering and educating individuals to be champions of their own health.

“That is where the real difference comes in because you have COVID-19, but you will still have high blood pressure and diabetes.”

The goal, she said, is to offer health screenings that address the individual and encourage them to make healthier choices.

By raising awareness, Kent said, the program puts health at the forefront of individuals “and being here we are able to leave city hall and walk the community to put the resources back into the community. We are now focused on looking at finding opportunities to sustain the project and for partnerships that will highlight the project and enhance outreach programs.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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