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North Mpls. Community Groups Work To Bridge Racial Disparities In Vaccine Distribution

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) - Sha-Jee West said he heard about a COVID-19 vaccine pop-up clinic from a local nonprofit he trusts and then made the decision to get the shot so he can stay healthy for his community.

"Anticipating the vaccine is one thing, but then understanding it has its purpose that we're all healthy and we're all moving forward," said West.

It's that kind of response between local leaders and communities of color that the state health department wants to see in its effort to distribute vaccines equitably across racial and ethnic lines.

West got his first dose of the Moderna vaccine Wednesday inside a repurposed Metro Transit bus, which serves as a mobile vaccine clinic. The state has a few of them and the goal is to meet people where they are while in a place that's comfortable and accessible.

"Because I am committed to health care, I want to make sure our community is aware of the things that are available to them so they can feel safe," said Kecia Hayslett, a registered nurse in north Minneapolis who volunteered for the mobile clinic Wednesday. "The biggest issue I've found is the mistrust."

Wednesday's event comes against a backdrop of persistent disparities when it comes to COVID-19 in communities of color from cases and hospitalizations to vaccine intake. According to state data, 39.6% of Black Minnesotans who are 15 or older have at least one shot. Nearly 60% of white Minnesotans have at least one dose and about 42% of the Hispanic population does.

Minneapolis officials are specifically concerned about discrepancies between white residents and people of color. Statistics in the state's largest city are worse than statewide: Just 28% of Black people in Minneapolis have their vaccine, compared to 71% of white residents.

"It doesn't surprise me," said Hayslett of the data. "Does it concern me? Always."

Nausheena Hussain and her organization RISE teamed up with other local groups to host the clinic Wednesday with the hope that their efforts can help bridge those gaps.

She says one of the biggest barriers to access she hears from the community, is not being able to take time off work.

"Now we're noticing a little bit of decline and it's because people don't have access. So my advice would be, how do we bring the vaccine to the people?" Hussain said.

State officials say they're aware of this problem but can't fix it alone. They want private partners to step up in order to boost vaccinations.

"That's a concern," said Dr. Nathan Chomilo, a pediatrician and the Minnesota Department of Health's COVID-19 vaccine equity director. "We've heard stories from other community sites where someone went and got their first shot, and then their employer got mad because they had a couple of side effects and missed a little bit of time. And then they were considering whether they're gonna get the second shot."

"We're not going to be able to do this alone. The state government can only do so much. We need our private partners to really help us here," she said.

Chomilo pointed to a provision in the federal American Rescue Plan coronavirus relief package, that allows small and midsize employers to claim refundable tax credits that reimburse them for the cost of providing paid sick and family leave to their employees due to COVID-19. The plan includes vaccinations and recovering from side effects.

"I think access continues to be an issue where we are doing our part and getting out into the community, but if you don't have time off work, that's an access issue," he said. "And if you don't feel like you're supported in your community because you're going to get labeled or ostracized, that's an access issue, too."

There is another pop-up clinic Thursday in north Minneapolis from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the MPS Davis Center. Walk-ins are welcome for anyone 18 or older and no I.D. or insurance is necessary.

In south Minneapolis on Sunday, there will be vaccines available at Park Avenue United Methodist Church from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

For more information on both of these events, click here.

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