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Chinatown center targets ‘harder to reach’ in Asian immigrant community about COVID vaccines

Although 63.2% of the Asian population in the city has received at least one dose, those who don’t speak English as a first language face many barriers in receiving vaccines.

People line up to receive a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at Pui Tak Center in Chinatown, Monday afternoon, June 28, 2021. | Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times
People line up to receive a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at Pui Tak Center in Chinatown on Monday afternoon.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

The Asian population in Chicago has the highest percentage of any race-ethnicity group to receive one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as of May 24, but the Pui Tak Center in Chinatown is still working on ways to continue making the vaccine available to the Asian immigrant community.

Though 63.2% of the Asian population in the city has gotten at least one dose as of Sunday, there remains a disparity within the Asian community itself, said state Rep. Theresa Mah.

“What the numbers don’t show are the barriers that still exist for the members of the immigrant community, those who have language barriers, lack of access to transportation and lack of flexibility with their jobs, to get vaccinated,” Mah said at a new conference at the Pui Tak community center Monday.

When the state sought to identify communities particularly difficult to reach with the COVID-19 vaccine, Zip codes with large Asian-American communities were left off, said executive director of the Pui Tak Center David Wu. Language barriers were never even considered, Wu said.

“Right now we need the city and state to reach the harder to reach. A message you see on a major news station in English is not going to reach our community, especially those that are unvaccinated,” Wu said Monday.

Wu is now working to inform Chinatown residents about the All in For the Win vaccination lottery using Mandarin or Cantonese.

The Pui Tak Center has vaccinated 3765 people, more than 10% of Chinatown’s population, Wu said. The church-based community center taught English classes among other things before the pandemic, he said. This has allowed people who struggle with English to feel comfortable receiving vaccines there, Wu said.

“We are working to get rid of all those barriers to get people in the community vaccinated.”

David Wu, executive director of the Pui Tak Center, discusses COVID-19 vaccinations Monday during a news conference at the center in Chinatown.
David Wu, executive director of the Pui Tak Center, discusses COVID-19 vaccinations Monday during a news conference at the center in Chinatown.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times