For county and state, clinics key tool in fight for vaccine equity in Jeffco

Polis promises Jeffco will see more events like one that delivered 1,000 doses at Lakewood shopping center

Paul Albani-Burgio
palbaniburgio@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 4/21/21

As a member of the public health staff team working to ensure the distribution of vaccines is as equitable as possible in Jeffco, part of Marius Nielsen’s job is to hone in on the county …

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For county and state, clinics key tool in fight for vaccine equity in Jeffco

Polis promises Jeffco will see more events like one that delivered 1,000 doses at Lakewood shopping center

Posted

As a member of the public health staff team working to ensure the distribution of vaccines is as equitable as possible in Jeffco, part of Marius Nielsen’s job is to hone in on the county communities where people are being vaccinated at lower rates.

“We’re trying to see who is being left behind,” Nielsen said. “And then we work with organizations to say “in your community where’s the best location and how do we reach people and what is the best approach to distributing the vaccine here?”

At this point in the vaccination effort, no Jeffco community has bee left behind more than the Sheridan Boulevard corridor in Lakewood, which Nielsen said has some of the lowest vaccination rates not only in Jeffco but nationwide.

Nielsen said that statistic is the result of many challenges, including a large number of residents who lack health insurance and thus experience with the medical system. The area also has a high number of residents who don’t speak English.

“There’s also lots of language barriers which come into play because a lot of the information that has been put out about the vaccine is going out in English,” said Nielsen. “And so what a lot of folks have access to is what they are seeing on social media, which creates hesitancy.”

Few people know more about the reality of those challenges and what it takes to break through them than Sandie Weathers, who lives in the area and has been closely involved with helping its Spanish-speaking residents access food and other resources during the pandemic as a volunteer with the Conectando community organization (formerly Adelante Jeffco).

For months, Weathers has been hoping to help organize an event that would literally break down those barriers by bringing vaccines directly into her community.

On April 14, that vision became a reality as Weathers and Conectando collaborated with JCPH to hold a vaccine equity clinic in the Alameda Crossing Shopping Center that put 1,000 Pfizer shots in the arms of area residents who didn’t even have to get out of their cars.

While the parking lot of a busy shopping center might seem a surprising place to give out vaccines, Weathers and Nielsen both said that choice of site was no accident.

“This is the community,” Nielsen said. “This is where people live, work and play and we wanted to meet people where they are and make sure they can get vaccinated in a place where they are comfortable and with people they are comfortable with.”

The location also made sense given the intention of the clinic to be highly targeted to reaching residents of the neighborhood. To do so, Weathers and other volunteers hit the pavement to talk to people at nearby businesses and get them signed up for the clinic.

Conectando also reached out to the many area residents who have accessed services through its Community Navigators Warmline to get as many of them as possible signed up.

Among the 1,000 people to receive a shot was Josselin Medrano, who works at a new Mexican restaurant in the shopping center.

Medrano said she signed up for the clinic after Weathers came in to tell the staff about the clinic.

The restaurant’s owner, meanwhile, volunteered to donate burritos for the site’s volunteers, a move that Weathers said underscores the communal nature of the clinic and the effort that supported it. Weathers, in turn, distributed goodie bags containing the cards of businesses that helped support the event to those that came to the clinic.

“We were appreciative of the publicity that (the clinic) was going to give us and wanted to give back,” said Josselin through Weathers’ translation.

As Weathers visited various businesses to sign people up for the clinic, she was struck by the number of people who expressed concerns not about the vaccine but how much it would cost them.

“People don’t even know that it’s free,” she said.

Governor promises more equity clinics in Jeffco

The Alameda Crossing clinic is one of several that have taken place in Jeffco in recent days as both the state and county increase their focus on getting vaccines into harder-to-reach communities.

Gov. Jared Polis said the state has so far partnered with local organizations such as Firefly Autism and the Queen of the Vietnamese Martyrs to put on nine equity clinics focusing on different communities in Jeffco as of April 15.

Polis told Colorado Community Media that while the state is able to provide vaccines and help with logistics, the success of those clinics rests with the community partners that are involved.

“It really takes a community partner that has the trust of the community and the ability to help communicate and organize people to get vaccinated,” said Polis. “That’s really what we look for and we’d love to partner with anybody through our equity partnership team to do that.”

Polis said Jeffco residents can expect to see even more equity clinics in the coming weeks, plus the county’s first visits from the state’s mobile vaccination units, a bus that can “pull up and provide up to 500 vaccines at a time.” That’s because the state is projecting vaccine supply will soon outstrip demand across the Denver metro area.

“We’ll be there with supply exceeeding demand in the Jeffco region within two weeks,” he said on April 15. “And that mans it’s not so much that people don’t want the vaccine, they do, but people are vaccine lazy or hesitant and we have to reach them where they are. They don’t want to do an online booking and they don’t want to look for it but if it’s available and easy for them in a setting they trust with community members they will go in to protect themselves.”

But Polis said the state still has work to do to reach people in Jeffco’s non-English speakers.

“Jeffco is a very diverse county and so there are a lot of folks that we are doing that cultural specific outreach to,” he said.

The governor also said that he is hopeful those ongoing efforts, and the inroads and connections with those communities that result, are serving as a catalyst for change that will endure after the pandemic ends.

The increasing prominence of telemedicine is one example of how innovations resulting from the pandemic will save people money and increase convenience over the longterm.

“I think we take the learning from the last year and we need to be able to utilize new ways of doing things that might work better and be more efficient,” he said.

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