DOH’s COVID-19 Outreach Efforts to Underserved Communities Are Commendable; We Need More Pop Up Vaccine Clinics

While the spread of the Delta variant has wrought havoc and paused Hawaii’s plans to reopen and rebuild, light at the end of the tunnel looks to be getting brighter as health experts and pharmaceutical companies CEOs predict the pandemic could end one-year from now.

But between now and then, the outcome could be a world of difference from those who get vaccinated and an increasingly smaller group who choose not to get inoculated with a COVID-19 vaccine.

Stéphane Bancel, CEO of Moderna, put it this way, “You can either get vaccinated and have a good winter. Or you don’t do it and risk getting sick and possibly even ending up in [a] hospital.”

Bancel did leave out the consequence of potentially dying from infection. But all these scenarios are nothing new, except his prediction of the end of the pandemic; and that eventually anyone who is not vaccinated will be infected by the Delta variant eventually because it’s so contagious.

The situation is that stark and urgent.

The choice — to get vaccinated or risk everything by not getting vaccinated – is a no-brainer that the former should be done as soon as possible, especially since vaccinations are free.

No Shortage of COVID-19 vaccine inventory
In March this year, COVID-19 vaccinations started in Hawaii, beginning with those 65 and older. Vaccination eventually became available to all groups (only children 12 and under are not eligible) but unfortunately many in our Filipino community still have not taken advantage of this potentially life-saving service.

What’s even more frustrating to public health workers is that there is no shortage of vaccine availability that would prevent people from getting vaccinated; and still a large sector of society remains unvaccinated.

Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s CEO, said “We will see a billion doses by the end of this year, not in the near future, by the end of this year. And we will do at least 1 billion doses next year.”In Hawaii’s inventory, our state has received 2,300,060 doses so far, administering 81% or 1,863,317 of the doses. There is more than ample vaccine inventory available.

The Food and Drug Administration last week approved a third jab for those inoculated with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for Americans 65 and older, as well as those with high-risk conditions or in workplaces with greater exposure risk.

We’re already looking at a sector of Americans about to receive a third, booster shot, while some in our community haven’t received a first shot for no other reason than they refuse to.

State survey shows Filipinos behind on vaccination
A recent Hawaii Department of Health-commissioned survey found: among the major ethnic groups in the state, Japanese (71%) and Caucasian (68%) respondents were more likely to be fully vaccinated than were Native Hawaiians (49%) and Filipinos (40%).

As far as comprehensive, actual data (not a survey) of vaccination by ethnicity in Hawaii, that hasn’t been released or it’s unclear if such data is being collected.

But just based on the DOH’s numbers of COVID-19 infections in Hawaii, comparing: 1) the “Overall” period from 3/8/2020 to current to 2) post vaccinated period from 12/27/20 to current, infection rates among Filipinos have not gone up dramatically. In fact, it went from 20% in the overall period to 19 post-vaccinated period.

It could be premature to draw conclusions on vaccinations and their impact on ethnic groups since outside of that survey, nothing else has been released. If more data is available, that should be made public.

Efforts to get Filipinos vaccinated

It’s clear that race and ethnicity often serve as markers for structural inequities. For example, there are economic and language barriers among ethnic groups that drive health disparities. To be commended, the DOH recognizes these disparities and the importance of reaching out to our state’s diverse communities.

DOH has worked with grassroots organizations, including our Filipino community, to get more people vaccinated. It has worked on translating materials on COVID-19 prevention and provided them at community outreach events. The DOH has worked with the Filipino Community Center and other groups.

The FilCom Center also has been doing an excellent job with outreach in our community, offering pop up vaccine clinics frequently, sometimes as frequent as once a week.

The Queen’s Health System and AARP Hawaii have worked with Emme Tomimbang to produce a vaccination Public Service Announcement (PSA) in three different dialects: Ilocano, Tagalog, and Visayan, which aired on State mainstream TV and radio stations.

These are all great efforts. But we need more community outreach to continue. Our Filipino organizations and leaders should also be encouraging members to get vaccinated. Other places the DOH could target our Filipino community is at Catholic Churches where Filipinos make-up close to or a majority of congregants. Setting up pop up vaccine clinics there would help. Pope Francis has encouraged vaccinations so coordinating with local churches for pop up vaccination clinics more than likely would be supported.

Let’s all work together to stay safe, follow state guidelines and get vaccinated.

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