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'A process of listening and hearing': Task force aims to address minorities' vaccine concerns

A statewide survey in September showed nearly 50% of Black and Latino Coloradans would not get the COVID-19 vaccine.

DENVER — The state health department has assembled a new team to help with the fight against COVID-19 in Colorado, a task force called Champions for Vaccine Equity.

"The champions are the most amazing, passionate, committed, just wonderful providers," said Gina Febbraro, the director of strategy and performance at the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment (CDPHE). 

Febbraro has been leading community engagement for the COVID-19 vaccine for CDPHE. The idea to start Champions for Vaccine Equity, she said, came from the community.

"We had to explore how the vaccine would be allocated once we received limited supplies," she said. "Our community engagement workgroup said, "It's all well and good to think about who will get the vaccine, but if people don't trust in the vaccine, they're not going to take it." 

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CDPHE then conducted a statewide survey in September. The results showed 34% of Coloradans surveyed would not get the COVID-19 vaccine, even when it became FDA-approved. 

The results also showed almost half of all Black people and Latinos surveyed were among those who were not willing to get the vaccine, versus 70% of White people surveyed, who said they would. 

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"We knew that we needed to get out and do things differently and start listening to people and creating dialogue," Febbraro said.

CDPHE started recruiting "champions" in the fall, looking specifically for healthcare professionals who were also people of color. 

"In terms of the COVID-19 pandemic, people said that doctors, nurses and scientists are actually the most trusted messengers of COVID-19 information," she said. "So, we were building off of what we learned in the survey in many ways."

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By the end of December, nine Black, Indian American and Latino healthcare workers joined to create the Champions for Vaccine Equity task force. 

"They will share some information, but really, it's a process of listening and hearing what communities' concerns are - whether it's about fear or mistrust or questions they may have," Febbraro said. "We're going to try and meet people where they are."

As the Black and Latino Hispanic populations of Colorado continue to suffer the highest number of cases and hospitalizations from COVID, these doctors and nurses of color said they are eager to build trust in the vaccine. 

"It is really important that they are people of color," Febbraro said. "We've heard that from community. It's not just what they look like. It's the fact that they bring with them a lived experience and cultural understanding that extends way beyond their medical expertise. They're passionate about their communities; they're passionate about connecting with community members, sharing information and really creating a dialogue to create trust and relationships."

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