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Vaccine outreach ramps up to reach Vt. immigrant communities

Published: Feb. 5, 2021 at 9:22 AM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - As more Vermonters get vaccinated for COVID-19, there is a push to make sure immigrant communities are getting the correct information in the correct languages they need.

The Vermont Department of Health and the UVM Medical Center are spearheading multiple info sessions on the vaccination effort similar to four that have already been held. It comes after officials last fall heard from more than 100 members of immigrant and refugee communities about how to improve the state’s response after criticism from some that outreach at the start of the pandemic was lacking.

“The vaccines are pretty safe for anybody to be able to access them right now, so we just try to reinforce this idea for everybody,” said Dr. Mercedes Avila with the UVM Medical Center. Dr. Avila along with Karen Vastine has been working with new American communities making sure everyone is getting the correct information.

Historically, some African communities have a distrust in vaccines due to past unethical use. To address those concerns, health officials have held vaccine Q&A sessions for people who speak languages like Swahili, Lingala, French, Arabic, and Nepali. Avila says that thanks to a partnership with the Association of Africans Living in Vermont, there has been more interest in the vaccine. “We found the majority of the community members actually didn’t have questions about concerns, but most of the questions they had were about logistics and when they could get the vaccine,” Avila said.

Tenzin Chophel, the president of the Tibetan Association in Vermont, says there hasn’t been outreach to the 160 plus members of their community, but he says there is an understanding of its effectiveness and many are anxious for their turn to receive it. “We have a lot of frontline workers, lots of people who work at a hospital and nurses and some people working for older centers, so those people have gotten the first shot of vaccine. So yeah, we all trust it and we are all waiting,” he said.

Dr. Avila stressed that any members of communities who haven’t gotten information in their specific languages can contact her for help at maria.avila@med.uvm.edu.

In the next several weeks they are launching nine more sessions in languages like Somali, Burmese, and Vietnamese. “We are seeing that as a result for those sessions the trust has grown to the point the Department of Health is doing community-specific clinics starting this week for former refugees and immigrant communities and that might expand into other communities,” Avila said.

Click here for the complete calendar of upcoming information sessions in various languages.

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