(WJET/WFXP/YourErie.com) – The COVID-19 Advisory Group, also known as WarrenVAX.com, announced Tuesday a grant for $100,000 to provide for COVID-19 vaccine advocacy and programs to address mental health in the wake of the pandemic to the Warren County Development Association (WCDA).

The Pennsylvania Office of Rural Health (PORH) and Pennsylvania State University, through the Health Initiative for Rural Pennsylvania (HIRP), helped initiate the COVID-19 Advisory Group. PORH provided the grant funding for the successful application by Commissioner Jeff Eggleston.

According to a release, WarrenVAX will utilize half of the grant funding to promote vaccine awareness, booster utilization, vaccination events, and other COVID prevention programs. Up to $43,000 of the grant will be allocated for mental health programs to help address the mental health effects of the pandemic on the community.

The parameters of the grant were generated through a series of meetings by the COVID-19 Advisory Committee and incorporated input from multiple community groups.

“We are grateful to have been awarded another grant opportunity,” stated Commissioner Jeff Eggleston, “which will allow us to further protect against COVID-19 and address the effects on the community. The mental health component of the grant is very exciting.”

Funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Pennsylvania Department of Health, the Health Initiative for Rural Pennsylvania (HIRP) was established to implement COVID-19 reduction strategies in rural Pennsylvania. HIRP will accomplish this work by building cross-sector county-specific teams and developing and implementing action plans to align public health, healthcare, and non-health interventions that decrease the risk for COVID-19.

Dr. Keith Price, Medical Director for Warren General Hospital, said, “Deaths and hospitalizations from COVID continue to drop, but COVID continues to claim 400-450 American lives every day, and our elderly and compromised citizens continue to be most vulnerable. COVID vaccination is our most powerful weapon in fighting this plague, and this grant will help educate the public on the efficacy of vaccines and boosters.”

The grant could potentially fund several projects to address mental health in Warren County, including strategic planning initiatives. WarrenVAX will conduct those projects in conjunction with Forest Warren Human Services.

Interim Director Betsy Miller said, “According to the World Health Organization Scientific Brief dated March 2, 2022, The COVID-19 pandemic has severely impacted the mental health and wellbeing of people around the world. We have seen increased mental health and substance use concerns in our community. The pandemic also continues to impede access to mental health services and has raised concerns about increases in suicidal behavior. We are hopeful that this grant opportunity will be able to identify and support the needs of our community.”

One of the grant’s main constituencies is the senior population, and advisory group member Danell Sowers, Executive Director of Area Agency on Aging, stated, “It is our role in the community to support and advocate for all adults over the age of 60. Older adults have been the most vulnerable to COVID-19 and its variants, so we felt it was essential to be at the forefront of offering Vaccinations and Boosters to this age group since the first doses were delivered in 2021.

We see the grant as an opportunity and look forward to continuing to provide this service to those interested and needing our assistance in obtaining their booster shots.

Reverend Matthew Scott, Chair of the COVID-19 Advisory group, concluded, “While we celebrate every victory against COVID, the advisory group members continue to be concerned about the potential for another serious wave of COVID later this fall. We also are concerned about the low vaccination rate in the county. With this grant, we will better counter the misinformation that convinces people to avoid vaccination and be prepared for a county-wide response should a fall or winter wave arise.”

Inquiries for information should be directed to the email info@warrenvax.com or via phone to Commissioner Eggleston at 814-584-2203.