• Voces Unidas

Voces Unidas joins 30 organizations calling on State to improve access to vaccine

Thirty-one organizations jointly sent a letter to Governor Polis requesting that the State take immediate steps to reduce barriers and ensure that everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity or immigration status, can access the vaccine for COVID-19.

Below is a copy of the letter:

April 5, 2021

Dear Governor Polis:

Thank you for your work to ensure that Coloradans have access to safe, effective, testing and treatment for vaccines for COVID-19, and also access to the food, housing and economic support they need to feel safe. We, the undersigned, are writing to request that you take immediate steps to reduce barriers and ensure that everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity or immigration status can access the vaccine for COVID-19. Our state’s diversity is a strength, with 22 percent of residents identifying as Hispanic or Latino, 5 percent identifying as Black or African American and 4 percent identifying as Asian. In addition, one in ten Coloradans are immigrants, and one in five children in our state have an immigrant parent. It is also important to note that 10% disabled adult Coloradans (under ADA definition), and 1 in 4 of people with disabilities is Black, 5 in 10 are Hispanic, 3 in 10 are Indigenous, 1 in 10 are Asian (CDC).

Ensuring that everyone has access to and receives vaccines is crucial so that all our communities are safe and healthy. However, an analysis by Kaiser Family Foundation and data provided by CDPHE shows that as of March 31, 2021, many more white Coloradans (72.14 percent) have been vaccinated, while Coloradans with Hispanic ethnicity are very far behind at an alarming rate of only 8 percent, and only 2.46 percent of Blacks and 2.46 percent of Asians. These disparities have existed since Colorado began publishing this data, and is significant cause for concern as the disparities have not been reduced or eliminated. While this data shows the shortcomings of our state’s effort, it is not surprising as this was totally predictable based on the state’s vaccination plan since it’s public appearance back in December. Getting Coloradans vaccinated against COVID-19 as quickly and equitably as possible is part of making sure our health care system works for everyone. While we are encouraged to see that growing numbers of Coloradans are getting access to vaccines, we have grave concerns about the many ways the vaccine rollout continues to perpetuate a system that advantages access for white people and neglects communities of color.

These inequities are the result of centuries of implicit and explicit racist policies and practices embedded in our institutions--from those that have determined what communities people live in, to their legitimate fears about the weaponization of vaccines against communities of color. Established vaccine sites are often located in primarily white communities, with only English-speaking staff, and have appointments that can only be booked online, as a drive-through appointment, during limited hours; these are just a few of the reasons the community members we work with have faced difficulties getting vaccines. We know you recognize these challenges too, and appreciate the clear action that the Governor’s Office and CDPHE are taking to increase education and mitigate vaccine inequity. The Champions for Vaccine Equity program is showing encouraging progress in building vaccine confidence and knowledge in the Hispanic and immigrant communities we work with closely, and the plan to set aside fifteen percent of vaccines for communities with a high density of Coloradans of color and those with limited incomes has a lot of promise.

It is critical that Colorado make a course correction now that all Coloradans are eligible to get the vaccine, and supply has become more available. The White House estimates that the U.S. daily vaccinations will grow from about 1.7 million people a day now, to about 3.3 million doses a day by March 31st.

We also have significant work ahead to overcome the damage done by anti-immigrant federal policies and rhetoric of the last four years, which significantly reduced immigrants’ access to health care and economic support through harmful policies such as the public charge regulation. As the pandemic continues to rage on, both its health effects and economic burden fall most heavily on people of color, including immigrants. Yet, immigrants and their family members fear that if they seek health care, food, housing or other assistance, they could face immigration consequences like deportation, family separation, an inability to adjust status, or that they may subsequently need to pay for these services. These fears undermine access to testing, treatment and vaccination efforts and prolong the health and economic threat facing us all.

With this in mind, we wanted to offer six ways that Colorado can reduce barriers to accessing vaccines for immigrants and people of color and lead the country in vaccine equity metrics. More information about each of these suggestions is provided below.

  1. Educate Coloradans and health and social services providers about vaccine access for immigrants with five key messages.

  2. Share key messages in languages other than English and provide interpreter services at sign up and vaccine clinic sites.

  3. Collaborate with and fund trusted messengers as vaccine ambassadors to overcome fear and other access barriers.

  4. Use information from key stakeholders and data analysis to drive vaccine outreach and distribution efforts.

  5. Ease access to vaccine sites by providing transportation, extended hours, and bringing vaccines where people who are hard to reach live and work.

  6. Develop systems to identify and overcome unanticipated or emerging barriers to vaccine sign ups and clinics.

#1 Educate Coloradans and health and social services providers about vaccine access for immigrants with five key messages.

We applaud our leaders for ensuring that vaccines are available to all free of cost, identification is not required to receive a vaccine in Colorado, and that people’s personal information -- including name, date of birth and contact information-- will only be used for public health purposes and will not be shared for any immigration or law enforcement purposes.

However, we are facing the challenge that we need to encourage access to vaccinations at a time when people in immigrant families are afraid of accessing care. Since COVID-19 began, research continues to document that immigrants and their families are forgoing critical health and economic support programs because of immigration-related concerns. A recent survey of community-based organizations conducted by the Urban Institute found that nearly 70% reported that public charge and other anti-immigrant policies deterred the people they serve from seeking COVID-19 testing and treatment. We strongly suggest that you keep sharing and emphasize the following messages in multilingual vaccine-related materials, and with media and social media, non profit partners, and with health care providers across the state.

  • Receiving a vaccine is not considered in the public charge test -- even if paid for by Medicaid, CHIP, the health insurance marketplace, or at a community health center-- and will not impact an individual’s or a family member’s immigration status.

  • Vaccines are free and available to all regardless of health insurance, ability to pay, or immigration status.

  • Identification -- like a driver’s license or passport - is not required to receive a vaccine.

  • Personal information provided will not be used for immigration or other law enforcement purposes.

  • Immigration enforcement activities will not be conducted at or near vaccine distribution sites or clinics.

#2. Share key messages in languages other than English and provide interpreter services at vaccine sign up and vaccine clinic sites.

More than 312,000 or seven percent of people in Colorado are Limited English Proficient (LEP). It is critical that Colorado communicate these messages in the top languages spoken by people who are LEP in Colorado. In May, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights issued a bulletin that requires all entities that receive HHS-provided federal financial assistance to ensure meaningful access for individuals with limited English proficiency (LEP) during the pandemic. According to the American Community Survey, the top languages spoken by people who are LEP in Colorado were Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, African Languages, Russian and Arabic. In addition, providing interpreter services in person or on a language line at vaccine sites, particularly in counties with large numbers of LEP individuals, is critical. The counties where more than 5,000 people who are LEP live are Denver, Adams, Arapahoe, El Paso, Weld, Boulder, Jefferson, Larimer, Eagle, Douglas, Pueblo, and Garfield.

The City of Boston has key information about the status