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In June, Jefferson County reached a pivotal moment in the effort to protect the community from COVID-19 when it surpassed President Biden’s goal of 70% residents receiving at least one shot days by …
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In June, Jefferson County reached a pivotal moment in the effort to protect the community from COVID-19 when it surpassed President Biden’s goal of 70% residents receiving at least one shot days by July 4.
But while surpassing that 70% threshold was overall good news for the county, not all communities within it are close to being covered by that level of vaccination. Most glaringly, JCPH data suggests that Hispanic residents have so far been vaccinated at less than half the rate of white residents. As of July 8, about 26% of Hispanic residents in Jeffco were fully vaccinated while another 3% were partially vaccinated.
In comparison, about 66% of white residents have been fully vaccinated while another 3% were partially vaccinated. However, about 10.4% of Jeffco residents who have received vaccinations declined to disclose their race.
But even if every person who declined to disclose their race when receiving the vaccine was Hispanic, the percentage of vaccinated Hispanic Jeffco residents would still lag far behind white residents.
Dr. Oswaldo Grenardo, a physician with Centura Health who is also one of the chairs of the Colorado Vaccine Equity Taskforce, said the comparatively low rate of vaccination for Hispanic residents not only in Jefferson County but across the state is particularly concerning given that Hispanics have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
According to CDC data last updated on July 16, Hispanics have the highest rate of COVID-19 cases nationwide of any ethnic or racial group. In America, Hispanic people are also 2.8 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 and 2.3 times more likely to die from the disease than White people.
“The pandemic hit the Hispanic, Black and Native American community much harder in terms of both health outcomes and economic outcomes than anybody else,” said Grenardo. “And so with the Delta variant running through unvaccinated communities, we are even more at risk for the Latinx community to have even worse outcomes and extend the problems of this pandemic in their community.”
Reasons for disparity varied, complex
The experts Colorado Community Media spoke to for this story said the reasons for the low rate of vaccination are both many and complex, and range from concerns about providing personal data to the government to get the vaccine to fear of the vaccine itself, which is often spread by misinformation specifically targeting Spanish speakers.
Sandie Weathers, a volunteer with Hispanic community organization Conectando, says helping to organize COVID-19 vaccination events targeted toward serving Lakewood’s Hispanic communities has given her a new understanding of what must be done to effectively reach those residents.
On April 14, JCPH worked with Weathers to hold a drive-up clinic in the parking lot of the Alameda Crossing shopping center that vaccinated 914 people, most of them Hispanic.
However, she feels that the county, state and other vaccine providers have missed an opportunity to build on the success of that event by establishing a more permanent vaccination presence at the shopping center or other locations frequented by Hispanic residents.
“Are we steadily there every week?” she said. “No, we are not. We’ve done clinics in Hispanic neighborhoods, but I don’t think we’ve been steady and consistent.”
Later that month, Weathers helped organize another clinic for the Hispanic community at the Phillips United Methodist Church about two-and-a-half miles from Alameda Crossing. However, that clinic didn’t get nearly the turnout of the first one, despite Weathers doing what she said was the same level of legwork to inform the community about it.
“What my gut tells me is it’s because Phillips isn’t seen as a Latino church but as, for lack of a better term, “a white church,” said Weathers, who also noted that the lack of turnout at Phillips wasn’t the church’s fault. “For me as a community organizer who wants to have good turnout, it’s about finding those locations that are trusted by the Latino community.”
Weathers said there have since been more successful clinics at a local Mexican bakery and nearby Hispanic church, but that more consistent clinics at those types of locations are needed so that people can get used to seeing them there.
JCPH Executive Director Dawn Comstock told Colorado Community Media earlier in July that the county remains “short of its goal” to ensure that everyone has equal access to COVID-19 vaccines.
“We are acutely aware of the need to do everything we can to work with our community partners and community navigators to really make sure that we can meet our high-priority populations where they want us to meet them and in the way that they want us to meet them so answer their questions, address their concerns and make receiving a vaccination as convenient as possible,” she said.
Among the major challenges Comstock said JCPH has faced — and began to overcome—is the high number of vaccinated people for whom the county does not know the race, which made efforts to target vaccinations more effectively difficult.
In response to that issue, JCOS began using address data to determine which neighborhoods have higher and lower rates of vaccinations and place more targeted clinics in those communities.
Comstock said identifying those communities has also allowed JCOS to send people into those neighborhoods to get a better understanding of the situation on the ground with regards to vaccination. She said:
“We would talk to folks in that neighborhood and find out is it an issue of access? Do we do we just need to bring more vaccination units to them? Is it an issue of distrust? Can we go in and build some confidence and comfort? Can we work with their trusted health care providers? Can we work with trusted leaders in that area? Is it an issue of hesitancy? Do we just need to share more information about the vaccines?”
Tara Trujillo, the state’s COVID-19 Vaccination Campaign Manager, said in an email to JCPH that the state has taken a multifaceted approach to getting communities of color vaccinated that has involved everything from launching a 24/7 vaccine hotline that provides information in Spanish and other languages as well as English to directing a “significant” portion of its statewide marketing campaign to ads that have run on Spanish radio and television and creative marketing approaches in Spanish-speaking grocery stores and restaurants. The state is also now calling and texting unvaccinated Coloradoans in both English and Spanish to encourage them to get vaccinated,
However, some of the biggest lifts have included introducing a vaccination bus that travels to underrepresented communities to deliver vaccinations and organizing a total of 1,400 pop-up clinics with trusted community organizations within underserved communities, including some in Jeffco. The bus and those clinics have combined to deliver over 450,000 doses.
However, Trujillo said that while the state is proud of its outreach efforts, it knows more work must be done to remove barriers and increase vaccine access within communities of color.
Trujillo also noted that Colorado is one of many states struggling with vaccine uptake in communities of color, a situation which ultimately speaks to the need to dismantle long-established systemic barriers to health.
“We know the only way to combat these inequities is to be committed to comprehensive health equity efforts to reach disproportionately impacted communities,” she said in an email to Colorado Community Media.
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