Library and Health Organizations Partner on Communities for Immunity to Boost Vaccine Confidence

UPDATE: The Round Two application window is now open through October 29; awardees will be notified in mid-November. Register here for a webinar about the award program and how to apply for the current round on October 14 at 3 p.m. Eastern.

Communities for Immunity logo - folded green band-aid in a v-shape

As new coronavirus variants surge across the globe, information professionals are working to boost vaccine rates. Experts from the health and medical fields, media outlets, community organizations, and concerned individuals are speaking out to help combat misinformation and fear, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has finally fully approved the first COVID-19 vaccine . (It, and others, were previously authorized for emergency use.) Research has repeatedly shown that libraries are deeply trusted in their communities—along with museums and other cultural institutions. As a result, they are well placed to provide access to the information that people need to better understand why vaccinations are critical to fighting COVID-19.

On August 5, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), American Library Association (ALA), Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC), U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), American Alliance of Museums (AAM), and Network of the National Library of Medicine (NNLM) announced the launch of Communities for Immunity, a partnership that will help support libraries and museums in their work to boost COVID-19 vaccine confidence across the United States. Communities for Immunity invites libraries and museums to submit grant proposals that would fund efforts to support vaccine confidence, reach new members of the community, and engage with patrons who are vaccine hesitant.

Since the initial announcement, a number of additional partners have joined the initiative, including the Association of African American Museums; Association of Children's Museums; Association for Rural and Small Libraries; Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums; and Urban Libraries Council; and ALA divisions such as the Public Library Association (PLA).

ASTC will lead the initiative, coordinating and administering funding. Partner organizations will distribute the work of reviewing applications, which has already begun. With financial support from the CDC and IMLS, Communities for Immunity will help libraries, museums, science centers, tribal organizations, and other cultural institutions located in the United States, including territories and tribal lands, continue and expand the work of they have been doing—creating and highlighting evidence-driven materials, resources, programs, and approaches to engage a wide range of audiences in vaccine confidence, whether they’re addressing the need for evidence of the vaccine’s safety, the challenges of sifting through politicized or incorrect information, concerns about taking time off from work to get the vaccine, or simply those who need help scheduling an appointment.

To date, two rounds of funding are planned. For the first round, applications can be submitted until September 2, with approximately 100 awards made on a rolling basis through September 16. Round Two projects will be initiated in November, and conclude on March 31, 2022, with an estimated 154 awards. Receiving awards in multiple rounds is permitted, and applicants who are not successful in Round One may apply in future rounds. Any institution eligible for IMLS funding can apply.

Proposals must include a narrative describing how the proposed project will address COVID vaccine confidence in the
community through increased understanding of and/or access to vaccine; a description of the target audience, as well as evidence that the audience may be vaccine-hesitant; a detailed project budget using the budget template provided in the applicant toolkit; and a project timeline, including start date, end date, and significant milestones.

“The hope is that it is a pretty broad cross section, from large urban institutions to small rural organizations and ones that have reached into communities that could benefit from additional support to boost vaccine confidence,” said ASTC Director of Communications, Advocacy, and Member Engagement Adam Fagen. With the first round of funding, “they can start to ramp up their activities—the expectation is that many of the awards will be to use existing resources in order to deploy them as quickly as possible. But then the Round Two funding opportunity comes pretty soon thereafter, and will provide for a bit of a longer term, particularly for the creation of new resources, building new exhibits, that kind of thing.”

A virtual community of practice will be created as soon as Round One initiatives are put into action, to provide a space for institutions to share ideas, examples, resources, and best practices—whether or not they have applied for or received Communities for Immunity funding. Participating institutions will also participate in an assessment program, much as they would if they had received federal grant money through IMLS.

Research from the Reopening Archives, Libraries, and Museums (REALM) project, IMLS’s partnership with OCLC and Battelle, will be made available. Communities for Immunity also builds on a number of earlier and ongoing vaccine confidence efforts, including Vaccines & US, led by the Smithsonian in collaboration with a range of partner organizations and individuals; Vaccinate with Confidence from the CDC; We Can Do This from the Department of Health and Human Services; and the It’s Up to You campaign led by the Ad Council and COVID Collaborative.



Members of ASTC, a Washington, DC–based nonprofit that provides support and programming opportunities for science centers, museums, and related institutions, started thinking about a vaccine advocacy initiative when the first vaccines rolled out at the end of 2020, Fagen told LJ. Conversations with the CDC Vaccine Task Force began in February, first with ASTC’s partners in the museum world and then widening to include library partners. IMLS wanted to continue the work begun with the REALM project, moving from laboratory research on coronavirus transmission to educational activities.

“The unvaccinated areas of the country are the places where the infection rate is going up, the hospitalization rate is going up, and a lot of it is a result of either misinformation or lack of information, or just a general decision to stay away from vaccinations until we know more,” IMLS Director Crosby Kemper told LJ. “But we do know enough, in fact, so if we can get the information from trusted sources—from libraries and museums—out to folks, we think this could have, as it has in some communities already, an impact on vaccination rates, and therefore on our getting out of the pandemic sooner rather than later.”

The CDC was aware of the access to health information that libraries offered during the pandemic, as well as their help locating vaccine sites and getting people appointments, and reached out to ALA’s Public Policy and Advocacy (PPA) office in Washington, DC. From the first conversations early in the year, said PLA Executive Director Mary Davis Fournier, the CDC knew there would be a need for libraries to be part of a vaccine advocacy effort that included multilingual messaging and outreach to rural and underserved communities.. “One of the things the CDC anticipated, as did all the partners, was that at some point there would be a need for messaging about the vaccine,” she told LJ—“that at some point, as we've seen, a large percentage of people would be vaccinated, and then there would be a gap in either access, understanding, or confidence.”

The project came together quickly, thanks to the partners’ funding expertise. “The model of providing grants to individual institutions is something we at ASTC have been doing in a number of different areas,” said Fagen. “It’s basically empowering them to do what they do best. So rather than a top-down approach where everybody is working on things in exactly the same way, [the goal] is to mobilize an entire community to act in ways that make sense given their specific circumstances.”

Funding will be offered in different amounts, starting with micro-awards of up to $1,500 to engagement awards of up to $100,000, “based on the creativity, capabilities, and abilities of individual institutions to build on their local insight to do something, that will resonate in the geographic area or for particular audiences.” Seed funding is in the low millions and is expected to grow with contributions from the partners.

What Communities for Immunity thinks that work might look like is deliberately open-ended. “The ability to engage communities, helping people navigate complicated and nuanced information, is one of the things that our members do all the time—being able to lean into the expertise of engaging the public on scientific issues,” said Fagen. “There's not a preconceived notion of what it needs to look like.” Projects must be implemented within 30 to 60 days of receiving funding, however, and Round One projects completed by December 10.

Kemper envisions resources from toolkits to face-to-face vaccine advocacy. “I think the activities inside museums and libraries—or on the front steps of museums and libraries, as the case may be—are going to be the important thing,” he said. “Because what we've learned during the pandemic, what we already knew…is that face to face is where people trust, and libraries are really good at that.”

He cited efforts such as those already in progress at the Highwood Public Library, IL—one of three libraries awarded a 2021 IMLS National Medal for Museum and Library Service on August 24. In a town of 5,000 people, working with a $300,000 budget, “They partner well in the community because they know the community really well,” Kemper told LJ. “They vaccinated 2,000 people, just in the library. That's a symbol—it's a signal of what libraries can do.”

Alan Inouye, ALA PPA’s senior director of public policy and government relations, hopes that as ALA plays a lead role spreading the message about Communities for Immunity’s call for applications among libraries across the country, it can strengthen its relationships with government agencies, corporations, nonprofits, philanthropists, and other nonlibrary groups. “These groups should think of—and then engage with—the library community in terms of advancing common goals and common missions,” he told LJ. “In this case, the CDC wants to get out trusted, scientifically valid information to the general public. And, of course, that's what libraries want to do too.”

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Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is Executive Editor for Library Journal.

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