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Six Ways Funders Can Help Win the Fight Against COVID

Monday, April 12, 2021

The piece below was based on SCG's program "Equitable Vaccine Distribution with Blue Shield and the State of California" hosted on Friday, March 26, 2021. We encourage you to watch the video embedded above to hear the entire conversation. 


Thanks to a robust public-private partnership, Blue Shield of California has accelerated and expanded California’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution as a third-party administrator. In March 2021, in collaboration with Blue Shield of California Foundation, Philanthropy California hosted an online dialogue about how such alliances have furthered the cause of public health during the COVID-19 crisis.
Panel participants included Aliza Arjoyan, Blue Shield of California’s Senior Vice President of Provider Partnership and Network Management; Debbie Cheng, President and CEO of Blue Shield of California Foundation; Kathleen Kelly Janus, Senior Advisor on Social Innovation to Governor Newsom; Dr. Erica Pan, State Epidemiologist for the California Department of Public Health; Maricela Rodriguez, Director of Civic Engagement and Strategic Partnerships for the Office of Governor Newsom; and Marcela Ruiz, Director of the Office of Equity at the California Department of Social Services. Below are the key takeaways our panelists had for funders across the state. 


Invest proactively and for the long-term

Fundraising and philanthropy are often nimble in ways government simply can’t be. A simple mind-shift in the philanthropic sector can make a big difference: proactively focus on prevention rather than solely on a reactive mindset of immediate relief and response.

This proactive mindset could mean taking steps to fund local organizations or to provide technical assistance to CEOs so that grant application for long-term aid becomes a smoother process. It could mean investing in employee education so workers know what rights and medical offerings are available to them.

“Often we get government funding that’s very disease-specific,” Pan said. “It comes months after it’s needed and then takes a long time to implement because of bureaucracy. But what we really need in public health is people.”


Make use of the Healthy Places Index to channel aid to the communities that need it most.

In California, 40% of COVID cases and deaths occur in our least healthy communities — the same demographics often shoulder the weight of being frontline and essential workers.

Teams of ‘patient navigators,’ aided by targeted philanthropic investment, have the language and cultural facility to make sure vaccines get into the arms of these vulnerable Californians. Local, culturally knowledgeable investments in responsive resources are critical.

With the help of the Healthy Places Index, a service of the Public Health Alliance of Southern California, you can get a snapshot of a community’s income, education, access to healthcare, and other determinants of health.


Invest in (and use!) public technology and data analytics.

Public health and government have fallen well behind the private sector on having up-to-date information and data, and COVID-19 has widened that information gulf. Add your information to these databases, and encourage your peers to do the same.

Much of California’s COVID response has benefited from recent census data. Significant investments in data analytics and distribution will help position our state to be safer and more agile for unexpected events to come.

As just one example, public-facing online government resources like My Turn ( have helped match a limited supply of vaccines to the high-risk people who needed them most. Investments in, and use of, these sorts of services can genuinely save lives.


Invest in community education that is community-specific.

Public health education means sending the right message, from the right messenger, in the right way. Vaccine hesitance can often be effectively (and respectfully) combated with an empathetic message from a trusted source: a church, a community leader, a community physician.

There is ‘no one-size-fits-all’ way to persuade someone to take a newly developed vaccine, and there’s no substitute for a well-tailored message that respects someone’s questions and their humanity. For example, during the initial vaccine roll-out, it was important for California public health officials to oversample the reservations and hesitation of members of the Black community, given the traumatic history of the Tuskegee experiment and other areas of skepticism around novel medical developments.

Invest heavily in positive, community-specific messaging, led by the community members in question, to counter the waves of misinformation and disinformation we all regularly encounter about COVID-19.


Invest in smaller providers and support services.

In mid-April, California opened vaccine eligibility well beyond high-risk groups. Now it’s more challenging to prioritize high-risk groups and provide them with the vaccine. Keep in mind that not everyone can get to a mega-site for vaccination.
Investments in mobile vaccination sites and other small, third-party support services help strengthen a lifeline to communities of people who are disabled, housebound, or who otherwise lack reliable transportation. Consider championing resources that bring vaccines to Californians rather than (or in addition to) those that wait for Californians to get vaccinated.


Celebrate the power of public-private partnerships.

At the outset of the pandemic, an alliance between California and private funders resulted in a $111 million messaging campaign that spread crucial COVID safety tips far and wide. Thanks, in part, to targeted messengers from Sesame Street and more general messaging on massive public billboards or Instagram, the importance of mask-wearing and hand-washing became household topics rapidly. Each of these avenues required financial support.
Similar alliances can help with vaccine distribution and tailoring messaging for disproportionately impacted communities that need this life-saving help the most. Concurrent with the Johnson and Johnson vaccine rollout, the state produced a series of online videos featuring doctors taking the vaccines themselves, as well as answering questions around vaccine hesitancy. Consider how your leadership position in your sector might send a message to make a difference.



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