Chicago needs strong outreach to make sure communities of color get vaccinated for COVID-19

Culturally-responsive messaging about the vaccine will make the difference between life and death.

Dr. Marina Del Rios, from University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System, receives Chicago’s first COVID-19 vaccination from Dr. Nikhila Juvvadi on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020, at Loretto Hospital

Dr. Marina Del Rios of University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System receives Chicago’s first COVID-19 vaccination from Dr. Nikhila Juvvadi on Dec. 15 at Loretto Hospital in Austin.

Jose M. Osorio/Pool/Getty Images

COVID-19 has provided a stark reminder of how racism continues to impact America. Since Mar. 13, 68% of Latino households and 65% of Black households have lost employment income. compared with 38% of white households. This means the racial wealth gap will further expand and contribute to existing health disparities.

In Chicago, as of Dec. 3, Black and Latino Chicagoans make up 53% of confirmed COVID-19 cases and 74% of COVID-19 related deaths. With the dissemination of approved vaccines now imminent, we must ensure that all Chicagoans have access and confidence in taking the vaccine.

In addition to adherence to the current public health measures like mask-wearing, social distancing and testing, widespread adoption of an effective vaccine will be critical to curtailing the virus. For the vaccine to be most effective, we need as many people as possible to receive it. For the country to move back to some semblance of normalcy, upward of 80% — 90% of Americans (or Chicagoans) must be immunized.

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However, recent Pew Research data details that 39% of Americans say they definitely or probably would not get a coronavirus vaccine. Among Black Americans, the number rises to 58%. This is not entirely surprising, as many Black Americans harbor a lack of trust in medical and public health systems because of the legacy of medical exploitation and bias.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s current distribution guidance is built on recommendations from the Framework for Equitable Allocation of COVID-19 Vaccine. The framework addresses the disproportionate public health and economic impact on communities of color, and the concerns about the reluctance to take the vaccine. It recommends giving priority to communities high on the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index, and extensive community engagement that builds on trusted relationships, especially in areas that have been hardest hit.

While federal agencies have attempted to address and prevent further racial and economic disparities with vaccine distribution, we recognize that Chicago’s persistent issues with segregation and systemic racism have contributed to the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black and Latino communities. We cannot allow this disproportionate impact to rise as the vaccine is released.

We must take a different approach. With Census 2020, we reached hard-to-count populations through targeted, culturally responsive education, outreach and engagement. For the most part, those efforts were highly effective in making sure everyone was counted. Now, reaching those same populations with culturally-responsive messaging about the vaccine will make the difference between life and death.

We can and we must once again make sure that all Chicagoans count.

Dr. Helene Gayle, Chicago Community Trust
Dorri McWhorter, YWCA Metropolitan Chicago
Dr. Cheryl Whitaker, Next Level Health

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Congress, take action

Millions of families are struggling to put food on the table this holiday season, and nearly 12 million renters are under threat of eviction when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eviction moratorium ends on Dec. 31.

These renters are behind in rent an average of $5,850, causing economic hardship for them and their landlords. Some lawmakers have a bipartisan plan to provide food and rental assistance for the next few months, but Senate leaders so far are blocking it. They seem content to let countless Americans fall into financial ruin and homelessness in the middle of a global pandemic.

Congress must not leave Washington without taking action. They must pass a COVID bill now that includes food assistance, emergency rental assistance, and an extension of the CDC eviction moratorium.

Sandra Franz, Wrigleyville

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