Grant funds awarded from the Rural Health Clinic Vaccine Confidence Program to Northern Light Inland Hospital in Waterville and Northern Light Sebasticook Valley Hospital in Pittsfield are meant to give the hospitals resources to support vaccine outreach in their communities.

The initiative aims to improve vaccine confidence and counter vaccine hesitancy in rural communities where COVID-19 vaccination rates lag compared to more populated areas. The program will address health equity gaps by offering support and resources to medically underserved rural communities.

Strategies include:

• Engaging local partners and stakeholders, including school districts (Regional School Unit 19, School Administrative District 53, Maine Central Institute, SAD 59 and RSU 3), superintendents and nurses, and libraries — including Newport Cultural Center and Pittsfield Library — to create a community culture of sustainable, equitable, and inclusive vaccine confidence, communication, and strengthen the capacity of fact-based community conversations.

• Engaging other identified partners like food pantries, supermarkets, and a local community health agency — HealthySV — which will assist in the distribution of informational materials and education in the communities served.

• Hosting community vaccine clinics and informational events at schools, local businesses, libraries and other community venues to promote vaccine confidence and education.

• Creating and distributing educational materials to provide information to the community on the location and availability of vaccines.

• Creating public service announcements to share through local media outlets.

“I am pleased that this funding will help us give parents the important vaccine information they need to keep their children and our communities safe,” said Sherry Tardy, director of Community Health and Business Development for Inland Hospital and Sebasticook Valley Hospital, according to a news release from Northern Light Health.

“We hope our outreach and education sessions will encourage those who are hesitant to ask questions and get answers from qualified medical staff they trust in their hometown and local region,” she added. “We’ll provide information on the COVID-19 vaccine, as well as many other vaccinations that are now required of school age children.”

For more information, contact Hanna Bouchard at [email protected] or 207-861-3392 for the greater Waterville region, or Sydney Morton at  [email protected] or 207-487-3890 for the Pittsfield area.