‘We’re trying to bridge a gap’: Community organizations help vaccinate minority groups

SPOKANE, Wash. – Making sure people get vaccinated is the way to beat the coronavirus. That’s tough when certain groups of people are falling through the cracks. Efforts are underway to help better those issues.

Minority communities are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and have the lowest rates of vaccinations by far.

The Washington State Department of Health released a report of vaccine inequities, showing that about 750,000 people have been given at least one dose and about 195,000 people are fully vaccinated. 65 percent of the 195,000 people fully vaccinated are white.

RELATED: White people receiving most of Washington’s vaccine doses, Hispanics disproportionately left behind

The Spokane Regional Health District has an equity group, trying to make sure those smaller communities are getting what they need to be healthy.

On Friday, it worked with the Pacific Islander Community Association of Washington in getting those who were eligible in the community vaccinated.

“It’s a really great opportunity, I think,” said Bobson Narruhn, who got vaccinated at the clinic.

It was also an easy process for Narruhn, thanks to the association. Rogers High was a one-stop shop for many in that community on Friday.

The high school is normally a place for people in the area to get food for free. It was also a mobile COVID vaccination clinic Friday.

“It’s something where it’s free, as I know. We get that and we feel more confident and move forward in any activities,” Narruhn said.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Health data shows Spokane County’s Pacific Islanders disproportionately affected by COVID-19

It’s a step forward after a difficult year with COVID-19. The Marshallese community was heavily hit with the virus.

“This has to do with a lot of our people are essential workers, and we do live in multi-generational households,” explained Kiana McKenna, with the Pacific Islander Community Association of Washington.

McKenna, and the organization, has been working with the Spokane Regional Health District in making the mobile vaccination clinic happen.

When COVID-19 started spreading throughout the county, Heleen Dewey was chosen as the equity officer with SRHD. The task force had to figure out how to help communities that are disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

They knew they needed to partner with others in the community who knew more about the diverse cultures. The health district is there to give information to everyone, but they’re in need of some assistance to make sure it reaches people in an appropriate way.

“We might just not always be the messenger that people trust, and we recognize that. It’s partnering with those community organizations to get those messages out,” Dewey said.

It’s people like McKenna and the Pacific Islander Community Association who took the lead in creating the vaccination site. They know what their people need.

That includes making sure they have translators and making sure they can access places, like Rogers High, to get the food and other resources as needed.

The goal is to have as few barriers as possible so people can come do what they need to.

“We’re able to control every touch point our community members are having with this process. Traditionally, our elders and our peoples have not had the best experiences with health care and with our health system for many different reasons,” McKenna said.

People in the Marshallese don’t have health insurance. They are under what’s called a COFA status, or the Compacts of Free Association. Mckenna says it’s a treaty where Marshallese people are there working legally and are paying taxes, but they don’t get access to some services like other tax-paying people do.

“There’s been many, many negative experiences. These are larger systems here, they just weren’t built for our peoples and they weren’t for built for a lot of communities that have specific needs,” she said, adding that translating services when people are in need, is lacking.

It takes collaboration on all parts with the health district, WSU pharmacy students, CHAS, and the Pacific Islander Community Association to make it work and reach the people they need to ensure health and equity.

“We’re trying to bridge a gap and create community trust and comfort with things like this,” McKenna said.

McKenna’s goal is to make sure the experience for their community is as safe and comfortable as it can be.

“Then after they leave, they can tell their family members, their friends or those feeling more nervous about it, that this is a safe experience,” she said. “We want our people to get vaccinated.”

RELATED: Washington state vaccination data shows racial, ethnic inequities

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