COVID-19 vaccination rates are much lower in nonwhite communities, including Black, Indigenous and people of color as well as among foreign language speakers, the unhoused and those living a marginalized existence.
But thanks to a recent $1 million federal grant, a local nonprofit — with a little help from its friends — plans to turn that around.
Recipient of the grant and leading the effort is the Southwest Washington Accountable Communities for Health, or SWACH. Spokesman Ryan Carrillo said the group is working with existing networks of other nonprofits to get more folks vaccinated against the virus.
According to a press release from the group, the grant allows the organization to recruit and train a community-based workforce “to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate outreach, education, and access to COVID-19 vaccines with the goal to increase vaccination rates.”
The nonprofit “friends” with which the group is working are the Southwest Washington Equity Coalition, Youth and Family Link, Clark County Fire & Rescue, Lutheran Community Services Southwest, SeaMar Community Health Centers, Share Vancouver, and Washington Gorge Action Programs.
“For the most part, it will be employees from the different agencies, and they’ll be doing outreach with the clientele they already work with,” Carrillo said. “We’ll supply the training and funds to support it, to make sure they are up-to-date.”
Carrillo said the hope is to not only reach out to existing clients of these agencies but to also include new applicants. The outreach will cover Clark, Klickitat, Skamania counties and part of Cowlitz County, he said.
“The big thing is that those who have hesitancies around the vaccine can reach out to SWACH or our community partners, if people that have hesitations know that those resources are there.”
Corie Dow-Kramer, executive director of Youth and Family Link in Longview, said her organization will provide some administrative financial assistance to the group, as well as providing personnel for outreach, which she said is extremely important.
“Marginalized communities tend to be cut off from services and information in general, and getting resources to these communities is really important,” she said. “There is a lot of misinformation and fear (about vaccines), and it’s critical that we give them information so they can make the right decisions and good decisions for themselves and their families, so they can protect their communities.”
The team is doing more than vaccination outreach, Carrillo said, and will also help people recovering from COVID-19 who may have to quarantine.
“We’ll have grocery delivery and housing support for people who need it and who qualify,” he said.
In looking at vaccine rates, Carrillo said that during grant writing, the group learned that the Hispanic community accounts for 13 percent of the state’s population but 32 percent of COVID-19 infections, which is “disproportionately affecting the Latinx community,” he said. According to the Washington Department of Health website, people of Hispanic descent also represent 20 percent of hospitalizations for COVID-19.
The state health department also wrote in an Oct. 6 report that the impacts of COVID-19 “by race, ethnicity and spoken language,” have not only magnified but also made their problems worse during the pandemic.
The report said struggles of marginalized communities during the pandemic, “demonstrates the underlying and persistent inequities among historically marginalized communities and those disproportionately impacted due to structural racism and other forms of systemic oppression.”
The report also stresses high rates of hospitalization from COVID-19 by people whose primary language is other than English or Spanish, and how that can create communication barriers to care that “may contribute to more serious disease in those populations.”
And according to globalcitizen.org, reaching out to marginalized communities to get vaccinated is “critical.”
“Closing racial and ethnic disparities among those who get vaccinated against COVID-19 will be critical to limiting the deadly effects of COVID-19 and ending the pandemic around the world, the website states.
There are many reasons why some populations have lower vaccine rates, according to the site.
“Scheduling a vaccine requires access to the internet and digital tools, which can be limited for older people and immigrants,” the site states. “Language barriers prevent people from knowing how to make a vaccine appointment and learn about eligibility, as most information about the COVID-19 vaccines are in English.”
Southwest Washington Accountable Communities for Health received the grant back in July, and the funding is for one calendar year from then. So far, initial work has been on administrative processes, Carrillo said, and “looking at how to bring it to life.”
Training of community health workers begins this month, he said, and development is underway on the education component of the grant, to help bridge the information gap with clients.
The grant came from the Biden administration, Carrillo said, through the Health Resources and Services Administration. The $1 million grants were awarded to 127 agencies throughout the country, he said.
“The idea is to address COVID-19 related health disparities and advance health equity by mobilizing community outreach workers to educate and assist individuals in getting the COVID-19 vaccination,” Carrillo said.