Census armies focus on vaccine reach with minorities

Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans were a focal point in spreading the census across the country, while local leaders sought to ensure that underrepresented communities were also not underestimated, which could cost cities and states their share of trillions of dollars. at stake.

This time, what is at stake to spread the word is life or death.

The virus has had a major impact on the country this year, infecting at least 17 million Americans and killing more than 318,000. But their ire has been uneven: minorities have endured the impact of the coronavirus, facing hospitalizations and deaths at a higher rate than their white counterparts, while being disproportionately impacted by job losses, evictions and food insecurity.

However, people who worked on the basic census game have addresses, phone numbers and a sense of what people in the community leadership hear – essential markers that avoid having to start the vaccine push from scratch.

The Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corporation in Chicago was active in obtaining residents from the majority black communities that it serves to register for the census.

“We now have a Covid team – eight members hitting the sidewalk, going door to door” alongside healthcare professionals to encourage residents to register for Covid-19 testing and be part of Covid’s vaccine tests said Carlos Nelson, CEO of the nonprofit organization. “You can see the results. There are lines to be tested now in the community. ”

His organization is also part of the Racial Equity Rapid Response Team of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, which meets this week to find out how to make these same black and brown communities get the vaccine as soon as it is made available to the general public.

Health care workers and senior citizens living in long-term care facilities began receiving the first of two shots last week, a source of optimism in a year largely defined by racial calculation, economic devastation and a bitter presidential election. To get Covid-19 under control, medical officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading infectious disease specialist, say at least 70 to 80 percent of the population needs to be immunized.

A Kaiser Family Foundation survey released last week revealed double-digit increases in the percentage of black and Hispanic Americans who say they will definitely or probably be vaccinated since September. This left just over a quarter of Latinos saying they will definitely or probably not move on, aligning them with the average for all populations, while more than a third of blacks surveyed said they were not interested in vaccination.

His distrust of the government and the health system is rooted in the legacy of medical racism. Hundreds of black men were tried without their consent in the 40-year-old Tuskegee syphilis study, for example, and thousands of people of color were the target of a mass forced sterilization campaign in the 1900s. In modern medicine, disparities remain: black women are three times more likely to die in childbirth than white women in the United States

Nelson’s group in Chicago knows that a vaccination campaign will be more complex than launching the census.

“It’s not as easy as the census, where you say, ‘Hey, apply,'” he said. “It is about understanding people’s ideas, perspectives and feelings. We have a large population of elderly people who lived through the Tuskegee project period. It is a deeper conversation. “

This hesitation is already putting pressure on all levels of government to roll out celebrities, prepare advertising campaigns and put high-ranking officials like Vice President Mike Pence in front of the cameras getting the vaccine to dispel doubts, especially when misinformation circulates.

“There is a way to get people personally involved safely and we need to use these mechanisms,” Michigan Governor Garlin Gilchrist II said in an interview. “We also don’t need to leave any kind of media or medium on the table. We need to be comprehensive. This is all hands on. “

But having people on the ground meet face to face – albeit two meters away – is likely to be a key factor, said Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.), MD and new president of Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

“Often, in underserved communities,” he said, “the same people who are in the space of reaching out and engaging with community members in order to promote community development and resources being counted in the census are the same players who they work in non-profit organizations, organizing and mobilizing health resources in these communities. “

Ruiz said the CHC plans to use its members to mount a national campaign through media and grassroots outreach, and to engage with President-elect Joe Biden’s next administration to ensure there are people who understand the community and its barriers.

Community centers in Chicago that offered free masks and food donations in the midst of the pandemic began to include information about the census. These same sites are now making plans to target their messages to focus on the vaccine.

Dr. Helene Gayle, who co-chaired the study used by the CDC to determine how to implement Covid-19 vaccinations, said the use of existing formulas from previous mass vaccination efforts, such as the 2009 H1N1 flu campaign or the census, will be fundamental to the immense effort of months ahead.

“Extensive community involvement that is based on trusting relationships, especially in the areas that have been hardest hit, is essential,” said Gayle, a 20-year veteran of the CDC who is now CEO of the Chicago Community Trust. “Community-based organizations and other partner organizations – including hospitals, pharmacies, religious organizations, community centers, schools and universities – can support community outreach and promote accountability.”

Funding for vaccination awareness campaigns, however, is likely to be a problem for many cash-strapped cities and states, despite Congress approving new vaccine funds this week.

“We spin. We just don’t have the funding for it yet, ”said Deborah Williams, community extension specialist at Habilitative Systems Inc.

The group is already working to spread the vaccine to the African American community in Chicago, using the same email list used to contact residents about the census.

The state of Illinois spent $ 48.4 million on publicizing the census. Last week, Governor JB Pritzker said the state would address Covid-19 vaccinations in black and brown communities with the same energy.

“We want to make sure that people who may be avoiding being vaccinated because they heard some false information about it, have their concerns addressed and that they are actually vaccinated,” he said. “We will do everything we can from the point of view of communication.”

Rep. Chuy Garcia (D-Ill.), Who represents a large Latin community in Chicago, is part of Illinois United, a grassroots organization formed in the early days of the pandemic to obtain accurate information about the inhabitants of Chicago who had Covid- 19. During the summer, the organization made the transition to help register Latinos in the census. And now it is helping to spread the word that coronavirus vaccines are safe and necessary.

“It is a delicate subject,” said Garcia. “It needs to be communicated through the most effective and trusted community organizations and partners. And they must be involved in distribution efforts to ensure, like the census, that hard-to-reach communities adopt vaccines. “

Legislators and health experts recognize the historic legacy of racist health practices. But they also understand that they must work with trusted partners to heal these wounds and ultimately save lives.

“You have to go to the community. This is the only way to really work, ”said Ruiz, the new CHC president. “You have to think outside the box and not rely on a system that has already failed to reach vulnerable communities to provide the vaccine to those vulnerable communities.”