Building bridges in rural, multicultural communities is key to Utah’s vaccine efforts

Coronavirus Updates
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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 ) – Health and community leaders continue to build bridges between disparities in the state’s communities.

A state map on the Utah Department of Health’s website shows vaccination rates by county. Wednesday, UDOH reports 48% of all Utahns are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but while the halfway mark is near, a University of Utah Health doctor said there are significant geographic variations in that number.

“Summit County, 70% are fully vaccinated. Tri-County area, less than 30% of people are fully vaccinated,” says Dr. Emily Spivak, an infectious diseases expert at U of U Health. “When we pull the state numbers together, it sort of inflates more of our rural communities, where we are seeing significant spread and disease.”

Dr. Spivak continues to say it’s important for people to know where their community stands in vaccination efforts.

“It should be a real motivator to get vaccinated,” she says.

The push to get Utahns vaccinated continues as public health officials offer easier access to vaccines in pockets of unvaccinated communities.

“We’re able to target here in Utah, about who really needs to get vaccinated,” says Dr. Leisha Nolen, the state epidemiologist. “Through getting really easy access to the vaccine or get more messaging out to those people.”

While the vaccine may be accessible to many, some of the state’s local leaders of multicultural communities said barriers still exist.

“The largest concern of a BIPOC community is missing work,” says Angel Castillo, an executive board member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Ogden chapter. “That’s a concern when you have parents that have children that are working and who’s going to care for the parent whose out for a day and have that loss of income.”

COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are high among the state’s multicultural communities.

“There’s plenty of data from the Utah Department of Health that BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, People of Color] communities affected; higher infection rates, versus lower population number,” Castillo adds.

She said efforts continue to know how to make vaccines easy and available.

“How do we compensate for when a working parent needs to miss work?” she asks.

She said vaccination clinics at Rancho Market have been a way to help bring the Latinx community to a familiar place, with people they know and trust to get their shot.

“One of the barriers we encounter is a gap in our healthcare with BIPOC communities seeing healthcare workers that look like them, that understand their culture,” she states.

Castillo is also a member of the Multicultural Advisory Committee of Utah’s COVID-19 Response and said the work continues to examine the structural barriers.

“If we don’t look for them, we can’t remove them,” she explains.  

COVID-19 infection rates among Pacific Islanders are the highest in the state, says Lisia Satini, the COVID-19 task force coordinator for the Utah Pacific Islander Health Coalition.

She along with others is working to help her community get the vaccine and said they’re getting feedback as to why some are noting getting vaccinated.

“We are running our own survey and from what our top one is a lot of folks still don’t think they need it,” Satini says. “Our second is that they are too busy.”

Among the Pacific Islander community, Satini says they are looking at taking a door-to-door approach, as she said it has been an effective approach in New Zealand.

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