As vaccines become more available, more emphasis is put on ensuring equitable access
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — So far, it is difficult to tell how equitably Colorado has been vaccinating people because about 14% of vaccinations lack information about the race of the recipient.
Still, about 68% of Coloradans are non-Hispanic whites, according to 2019 population estimates from the American Community Survey, and 74% of vaccines have been given to non-Hispanic white individuals, according to state vaccination data last updated Friday.
A large factor affecting the equity of the vaccine rollout has to do with who is eligible, with the older population in Colorado being whiter than the state as a whole.
But as vaccinations become more readily available in Routt County, there is an effort locally to ensure that vaccinations and good information about them are being distributed equitably, especially to immigrant and harder to reach populations.
In the 11-county Northwest Colorado region that includes Routt County, non-Hispanic whites represent about 71% of vaccinations, but 24% of vaccines given have an unknown race for the recipient.
Across the state, Gov. Jared Polis has partnered with a variety of community organizations to set up mass-vaccination clinics targeting underserved and immigrant populations, and that could eventually happen in Routt County, too.
Throughout the pandemic, county public health officials have worked with Integrated Community in Steamboat Springs to translate information and even hold a special testing clinic targeting the local immigrant population, though anyone could show up.
Nelly Navarro, executive director of Integrated Community, said she has started to think about doing a similar clinic for vaccinations, but it is still too early for that. Navarro said since vaccines are only available for those 60 and older, with two high-risk health conditions or a very limited group of essential workers, many local immigrants are just not eligible to get the vaccine yet.
When brainstorming which of their clients to reach out to inform them of local vaccination clinics the county hosted over the weekend, Navarro said her team struggled to come up with more than a handful of names, mainly because the local immigrant population is generally younger.
“At some point, when they open it for other ages, it might be a good idea to do one (vaccination clinic) directed to our clients,” Navarro said. “Right now, I just don’t think it is the right time.”
While Navarro said they have always had strong relationships with other organizations in the community, the pandemic has strengthened them more, and they are working with Routt County Public Health to translate its website into Spanish.
Integrated Community has seen a sharp increase in translation requests throughout the pandemic, translating newsletters and other updates about COVID-19 locally. From those newsletters, they have been making videos explaining the information to ensure people who may not be able to read still have a chance to get the latest updates.
“It is just trying to bring that equity to everyone. We’re doing those videos in English, Spanish and also in French,” Navarro said, with French being the language spoken by many people of West African descent locally. “We’re just really trying to do as much outreach (as possible), and that would not happen if we were not working really closely with public health.”
UCHealth is also trying to reach people who may not speak English or have a computer. The vaccine hotline they offer can be translated into more than 100 different languages, and they also have a separate hotline in Spanish that can be used to get on the vaccine list they keep.
Integrated Community recently partnered with 20 other Latinx-serving organizations across the state to put together a webinar series on vaccines, inviting Spanish-speaking doctors to give more information and to answer questions from community members.
One thing that could prove to be key in vaccinating immigrant and other underserved populations is the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is the only one on the market requiring just one dose.
“It is like Groundhog Day every time you give a Moderna vaccine,” Routt County Public Health Director Roberta Smith said, as that vaccine requires two doses spaced several weeks apart. “People travel, and people don’t necessarily put that second dose on their calendar.”
This can become problematic, because when a vial is opened, all the doses need to be given, and public health officials can’t just vaccinate one person because they missed their second-dose appointment.
“With the one-dose vaccine, we can get our hard-to-reach populations quicker,” Smith said, mentioning that transportation can sometimes be an issue as well for some people. “Some of those logistics issues will only come into play once with a one-dose shot, and that is really helpful from a public health perspective.”
Part of the reason the clinic this past weekend was done at the Steamboat Christian Center was because it is on the bus line, Smith said, making it more accessible for people who do not have the ability to drive.
Smith said they are expecting to see diverse populations of people show up to vaccination clinics, and this weekend, they had Spanish translators on hand in addition to some nurses who speak Spanish and Smith, who speaks French.
“We still have the parameters of 60 and older or having two health conditions for this current tier that we are working on, but we do hope this community clinic this weekend will reach the majority of that population and other hard-to-reach populations,” Smith said Thursday, before the clinic.
Another key way to vaccinate immigrant and harder to reach populations will be through their employer, Smith said. Since grocery store and other agricultural workers became eligible to receive the vaccine last week, public health has been working with these local stores and their pharmacies to reach out to employees and get them their shots.
The next phase of vaccine distribution is expected to start around March 21 and includes several different groups of essential workers in restaurants, manufacturing, public transportation and human services, among others.
“That is a huge population there, and when you can vaccinate people in the places where they are working, from an outreach standpoint, that can make things logistically easier,” Smith said.
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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