Communities of color have borne the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic, having disproportionately high case, hospitalization and death rates across the U.S. and in Colorado. This disparate impact on communities of color is in large part due to systemic health inequities fueled by past and ongoing racism. Racism in the medical field has led to decreased trust in vaccines, and more hesitancy. To make matters worse, the anti-vaccine movement has recently targeted communities of color, specifically, with misinformation about vaccines in order to sow increased doubt and dissuade them from getting vaccinated.
To address the critical need to improve health equity specifically regarding vaccines and more broadly regarding trust in public health and medicine, public health and community leaders in Colorado formed the Colorado Vaccine Equity Taskforce (CVET). The CVET exists to ensure that Colorado’s communities of color have the facts to make informed decisions about the safety of vaccines for their families, and to hold leaders accountable for ensuring equitable access to vaccines.
The CVET launched its efforts in the fall of 2020, drawing expertise from its 40+ members, both organizations and individuals, who include BIPOC stakeholders in public health, healthcare, and K-12 education, in addition to lawmakers, vaccine-preventable disease survivors, COVID-19 vaccine trial participants and religious and community leaders. The taskforce has set the important goal of ensuring 80 percent of all Colorado adults who are Black, Latinx and Native American get vaccinated against the destructive and deadly COVID-19 virus by the fall of 2021.
“I’m confident that when our communities get factual information about the importance of the COVID-19 vaccines, they will choose to take it to protect themselves and their families,” said Dr. Oswaldo Grenardo, a family physician who is a taskforce co-chair. “Scientists of color have contributed greatly to the development and dissemination of these vaccines and our communities have come forward to volunteer for trials in large numbers, helping to ensure we are represented in the science and the positive results.”
Responding to polling showing people who are Black, Latinx and Native American might be less likely to take the COVID-19 vaccine, taskforce members have launched a speaker’s bureau and begun hosting education and outreach seminars across many different groups, including civic organizations, faith communities and health care settings. The CVET also launched social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter, in addition to a website in English and Spanish to provide information about COVID-19 vaccines, highlight stories and testimonials from people who have gotten the vaccine, take questions from the community and share upcoming educational opportunities. The website offers content for partners and community members to help spread the word including sample social media posts and downloadable graphics and testimonial videos.
By elevating trusted voices in communities of color and highlighting their experiences with the pandemic and the vaccine, the taskforce hopes to build widespread trust. “I have seen great willingness from people of color across our state to come forward and do what they can to end the pandemic – from volunteering to be part of the vaccine trials to everyday activities like wearing a mask and keeping distance from those outside their household,” said Dr. Yadira Caraveo, who is also a taskforce co-chair and State Representative.
The CVET interacts regularly with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to engage in discussions on strategies for prioritizing communities of color in COVID-19 vaccine allocation and developing an efficient and equitable vaccine distribution model. The CVET includes state lawmakers and local officials, and while it operates independently from the state government, it works to advocate for state policies that favor equitable vaccine allocation.
While the CVET aims to improve vaccine equity for all routine immunizations in Colorado, it is well positioned to tackle the most significant challenges in equitable COVID-19 vaccine administration. With its many ties to grassroots community organizations already working to serve communities of color and medically underserved populations directly, the CVET has been tasked with serving as the backbone organization for a pooled fund of what is hoped to be around nearly $4 million to provide these and other organizations with grants to conduct COVID-19 vaccine outreach, education and even vaccination clinics in their local communities. This localized approach, reliant upon those who are already trusted sources in these communities, will be critical to addressing hesitancy and fostering confidence in not only COVID-19 vaccines, but all lifesaving vaccines.
“The number of funerals I have officiated and attended because of COVID-19 is overwhelming,” said Rev. Demmer, pastor of Graham Memorial Community Church of God in Christ after getting his vaccine in January. He urges Coloradans to get the vaccine themselves: “Do it for your loved ones.”
Addressing the COVID-19 pandemic will take a varied and cutting-edge approach and will only be successful when communities of color are able to recover from the greatest burdens of the virus; the vaccine and ensuring its equitable distribution will be key to achieving this goal.
Want to learn more about the CVET? Watch Immunize Colorado’s archived webinar to hear taskforce leadership discuss the taskforce’s important work and strategies for improving access to and confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine in underserved communities.