If you’ve been overwhelmed, frustrated, joyful, confused (or any other emotion) during the vaccine rollout, you aren’t alone. Like when the pandemic first began and everything was messy and uncertain, we’ve heard many of the same emotions expressed during this final push to defeat Covid-19 and all that’s come with it.
One of the areas of greatest concern around the vaccine rollout is the lack of access and resources in BOPOC and immigrant communities. So I want to provide an update on our work to increase equity in vaccine distribution.
Since mid-February, I have been convening conversations amongst Latinx community-based service providers and activists (La Familia, Alianza Norco, La Cocina, BIPOC Alliance, Fuerza Latina, ISAAC, and Mujeres de Colores/Betty Aragon), Salud (specifically Leah Schulz, who is heading up their equity efforts), the Health District (James Stewart and MJ Jorgensen), PSD (Claudia Menendez), and with the County (Sergio Torres who they hired for Latinx COVID outreach). BIPOC Alliance used our conversations as a jumping-off point to convene a conversation among Black community leaders this week.
From these conversations, we have addressed the lack of trust and understanding about the vaccine among BIPOC communities, the real barriers to access, and the struggle for effective coordinated communication. We’ve also been building relationships where none existed or where there has been historical tension. It’s been a slog at times, and the perspectives represented are very diverse, but I think there’s some really incredible movement happening as a result.
To start, we have initiated a proposal that will fund additional hours for an immigrant/Spanish-language-focused hotline that directly signs people up for vaccines at Salud. (This has been way harder than you might think, but we’re optimistic about the progress we’re making!). We’re working on a parallel version of the hotline for the Black community. This will be an outreach and educational effort supported by training through the Health District (where the attendees are all paid equitably!) and Salud. Foothills will also continue providing the kind of direct support for signing up that our Program Coordinator Amy Gage and our volunteers have already been tirelessly working to provide for our community.
These hotlines will be supported by community-based organizations that have agreed to actively educate and sign people up in their regular interactions. In turn, we are seeking funding for their labor and partnership at a flat fee.
We are also establishing two types of mobile clinics that will start next week. One is a large-scale, recurring mobile clinic that will be overseen by Salud but staffed and informed by La Familia, La Cocina, Fuerza Latina, and New Eyes Village. These will happen across the community on a schedule – at Aztlan Center, at schools, at the Senior Center, etc. The sign-ups through the hotlines discussed above will feed into these clinics.
The second type of clinic is small-scale, micro-sites, overseen by the Health District. Foothills is currently exploring the possibility of piloting this at our next food bank and then using other mobile food banks to have similar micro clinics. These micro clinics will also be happening at the Murphy Center, at the mobile home parks, and likely at Holy Family.
Finally, we are launching a large-scale communications campaign to build community trust in and support for the vaccine. BIPOC Alliance will oversee and run this campaign, and health providers along with the County will provide up-to-date information. BIPOC Alliance will also work in partnership with the County to ensure everything they are doing is culturally attuned to reach into our local immigrant and BIPOC communities. We are also seeking funding to support this effort.
On Friday, I submitted a proposal (co-signed by all of the above providers) to United Way, Bohemian, and the Health District. I have already received encouraging affirmation from all three organizations. We will be contributing to this funding effort through our share the plate giving in the second half of our Tough Love series, which begins March 14th.
Why This Is Our Work
First, this work is our work because we have uniquely established relationships across all these organizations without any particular stake. We aren’t receiving money from this proposal in any way. (We’ve already committed $5,000 to this effort.) We have a history of trusting collaboration that we can use to help build bridges that are otherwise really difficult to establish. This is really important when we need to move this quickly in such a complex system.
Second, it’s our work because our community’s ability to quickly sign-up and receive vaccines results from our privilege and is a manifestation of white supremacy. We had the relationships and the resources to move quickly and get our mostly-white community in for vaccines. Our community largely has technology and flexibility in hours, as well as access to transportation. As a result, those eligible in our community have mostly been vaccinated, while many Latinx and Black community members of the same age-range are only just now getting access to vaccines.
And so it’s our work because we have the chance to help address this inequity that many of us have benefited from directly. We can risk giving away our resources of time and energy, and leadership to bring compensation and recognition into the community and to re-center the conversation towards the needs of those who remain marginalized and overlooked.
Finally, it’s our work because we believe none of us are free until all of us are free. And in this moment, none of us are free until the most vulnerable among us get access to the vaccine.