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Vt. Health Dept. vaccinating New American families

Published: Feb. 7, 2021 at 12:07 AM EST
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WINOOSKI, Vt. (WCAX) - The Vermont Health Department is administering vaccines to refugees and immigrants at a pop-up clinic in Winooski. It’s an effort that officials say ensures vaccine access is equitable across the state.

On Saturday, 50 New Americans in the Champlain Valley got their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. It was the second clinic of its kind, held at the Winooski School District offices.

Since fall, the health department has partnered with the UVM Medical School, the Association of Africans Living in Vermont, and other organizations to break down linguistic and cultural barriers. The groups provide information to Vermonters on COVID-19 and the vaccine in their first language.

“For people who are 75 and older and have language limitations, you can imagine those barriers are even greater, so we really want to make sure we are breaking down those barriers,” said Heather Danis, the director of Burlington’s health department office. “It’s a safe, effective vaccine and we want to make sure everyone has that informed choice so they can make the decision that’s best for them.”

Officials not only gave a dose to people 75 years and older but also their family members who live in multi-generational homes.

“Most folks who actually have been coming with their elders from their house are the caretakers in the home, so it makes absolute sense that this is an opportunity for them to also get vaccinated,” said Thato Ratsebe of the Association of Africans Living in Vermont.

AALV hosts COVID information sessions in several languages, such as Vietnamese, Somali and Nepali.

Officials hope this model will help them vaccinate people who can’t access the established clinics, either because they struggle to navigate the website and call centers or don’t have transportation.

Many residents say it’s a relief knowing their whole family will be protected from the virus.

“Some of the people are already suffering from homesickness, and finally they get their dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and we/they are excited, and we are excited to be getting our best life again,” said Winooski resident Punam Tradhan-Suwal.

This summer, 117 people got sick in the Winooski-Burlington area during Vermont’s first major outbreak. At the time, Winooski’s mayor said the cases impacted several families in the community.

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