In response to public health research demonstrating that people with serious mental illness were at high risk of COVID-19, the Meadows Institute secured a grant from Texas A&M University Health Science Center, the Department of Health and Human Services – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Texas Department of Health Services and launched the Texas Vaccine Equity Sprint (Sprint). This 11-week program was designed to increase understanding of the risks associated with SMI and engage communities across Texas in the development and implementation of strategies for educating the SMI population about the COVID-19 vaccination.
Seven Sprint teams, consisting of local mental health authorities, public health agencies, and community-based organizations, with an estimated 138,000 youths and adults with SMI in their collective service areas, were involved in the project.
The teams set specific goals, identified target populations and tested approaches to increase vaccination rates. Teams met weekly, sharing challenges and learnings with their peers. Strategic approaches included engaging trusted messengers, testing and refining messaging, and strengthening community relationships.
We’re in this COVID struggle together [and] it was beneficial to realize that education and supply issues are not unique to us. – Vaccine Equity Sprint Team Member
To promote vaccination opportunities and education, the Meadows Institute team partnered with a national media outlet to launch a state-wide media awareness campaign targeting those with SMI and their communities. With guidance from the Sprint teams, the media outlet produced statewide and regional campaigns that ran in every Texas zip code, generating over 60 million media impressions.
As a result of the Sprint, strategies were developed to increase vaccination rates for individuals with SMI throughout Texas. To support other organizations seeking to increase vaccination rates among individuals with SMI, a summary of these strategies and other learnings from the project are published online and available as a downloadable toolkit, along with printable materials for raising awareness. The free toolkit and materials are available at https://vaccinetoolkit.org.