GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Vaccine hesitancy among minority groups continues to be a concern for health leaders in West Michigan.

That’s why Spectrum Health is creating partnerships in the community to offer Black communities resources to increase vaccination rates.

“This is one of the bigger puzzles of community needs that we need to resolve around the Black community,” Lee Moyer said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention awarded Michigan State University a $6 million grant to boost confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine in addition to other vaccines. Spectrum Health’s Healthy Communities initiative received a $700,000 grant, which will be used to increase COVID-19 vaccinations in Kent and Muskegon counties.

Instead of the large Spectrum Health deciding how to spend all of the money, hospital system leaders appointed a committee of Black community members in each county to develop strategies to combat mistrust and misinformation.

“This model of really listening to folks who have an understanding of community is really important. I imagine that without a resource group like the one that we have to allocate these dollars that the strategies that they would have invested in might look very different,” Kelsey Perdue, member of the Kent County Black Vaccination Resource Committee, said.

The strategies being implemented include supporting Black-led efforts to share information about the vaccines and increase the ease of access to the vaccine. The Grand Rapids African American Health Institute will be given $400,000 to increase marketing and to partner with organization and businesses to set up vaccination centers.

Another initiative will explore the needs of 18- to 29-year-olds, an influential age group that has the lowest vaccination rates. The committee has appointed a Black-led organization, Diatribe, to spearhead this effort. Some $65,000 will be invested into the organization as it creates focus groups of young adults to get their input and fears surrounding the vaccine. The goal is to establish a concrete plan to address specific concerns before a bulk of the funding is utilized.

“Part of what the committee did as as the first step was do a really deep data dive into who, where, when vaccinations are occurring, infections are occurring and deaths are occurring,” Perdue said. “We broke that down by race, ethnicity, geography and age group.”

According to Spectrum Health, Grand Rapids currently has a vaccination rate of 33.74% among African Americans compared to 38.82% in Ottawa County.

Muskegon only has a 31.96% vaccination rate. Furthermore, vaccination rates among Black 20- to-29-year-olds are just 12.5% in Muskegon (23.32% in Grand Rapids) compared to 31.14% in Ottawa County.

“Even though we’ve had lots of information over the last year, half of the folks that responded to this survey say they do not feel comfortable of their knowledge about COVID-19 and the vaccination,” Perdue said. “Even though I think many of might feel like there’s a lot of information that’s out there, I think sometimes there’s so much that it can be confusing and contradictory.”

The committee hopes to begin initial implementation of its strategies in January.