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Health, Science & Environment

Meeting People Where They Are: Utah Organizations Working To Vaccinate Communities of Color

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Courtesy Cristina Diaz de León
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Organizations are getting creative and hosting pop-up clinics where community members shop to address low vaccination rates among people of color in Utah.

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As COVID-19 numbers surge, communities of color are being disproportionately affected by the pandemic once again.

The Pacific Islander community is seeing the highest incidence rates with 49 cases per 100,000 people. And although the Hispanic community makes up just over 14% of Utah’s population, they’re experiencing over 20% of the COVID-19 cases.

While case rates are high among people of color, vaccination rates are low. Although more than half of white Utahns are fully vaccinated, that number is only around 42% for Latinos and just 28% for Pacific Islanders.

Intersecting factors like racial systemic issues, misinformation, a lack of trust and an inability to take time off work are the reasons why, according to Yehemy Zavala Orozco, program director of Comunidades Unidas.

When do you have time to take a break to get the vaccines?” Zavala Orozco said. “Most people of color [and immigrants] that live in the state do not have regular jobs. They don't work from nine to five.

But groups like the Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs are trying to bridge that gap. Claudia Loayza, community engagement coordinator for the division, said it’s about meeting people where they are — physically and mentally.

“So often in our communities, it's a lot of being told what to do, prescribing solutions without really going to them and asking, ‘what is it that you need to feel OK with this decision?’” Loayza said.

They’ve partnered with community and state organizations to provide multicultural educational resources. They’ve also provided free mobile clinics or taken requests for pop-up clinics at businesses.

Loayza also pointed to her colleague, Cristina Diaz de León, who created a partnership with Rancho Markets to get the Latino community vaccinated.

According to Loayza, Diaz de León advocated that the Latino population needed to have trust in order to reach higher vaccination rates.

So they met them where they shopped. They’ve hosted 15 clinics at Rancho Markets along the Wasatch Front and have vaccinated an average of 100 people per event.

Kevin Nguyen, health equity community health liaison with the Utah Department of Health, said it’s not just about providing access to these resources but being culturally responsive to concerns and hesitations.

“We can't just use a blanket approach,” Nguyen said. “Every culture has different values and viewpoints, and it's important for us to acknowledge and recognize that as we're working to better connect resources or educate on different things like that. The one size fits all approach is not efficient, especially in a crisis.

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