DENVER — As the state fights for more doses of COVID-19 vaccines, a Colorado taskforce is focused on vaccine education in communities of color.
"I think a lot of the hesitancy that we see is not so much that they don’t want to get vaccinated, but they don’t have the information they need to make a decision they’re comfortable with," said Maria Milagros Kneusel, a registered nurse at Centura Health and one of the "champions" on the state's Champions for Vaccine Equity taskforce.
"Last fall, we did a lot of events in the community doing flu vaccinations," she said. "We literally set up tents, people made a line and we just gave flu vaccines to everybody."
For two years, Kneusel has been partnering with community organizations, like Vuela for Health and the Denver chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses, to provide free flu vaccines in the parking lot of Ascensión Iglesia Católica in Montbello.
Just a few months ago, according to Kneusel, they were able to administer 200 flu vaccinations in one afternoon. The demand is there, she said.
"There are so many health disparities that affect our Latino community. Especially with COVID, our community is getting sick at a higher rate and dying at a higher rate. That just really moved me to be more proactive," she said. "To me, it’s all about making them comfortable to ask questions and seek out information that will help them make informed health decisions."
Her passion to bring health care access to Latino Hispanic communities put her on the radar of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), which recruited her to join the state's vaccine equity taskforce at the end of 2020.
"I feel honored," Kneusel said. "To me, it’s a privilege to be able to go out and educate the community. That's where my heart is."
As a Puerto Rican health-care worker and native Spanish speaker, Kneusel has been encouraging her community to ask questions, as they prepare to get in line for the vaccine.
"I look at my own family or my parents," she said. "I know how difficult it is to come to a country where everything is foreign, or where you don’t speak the language very well. I think that's my number one message, don't be afraid to ask questions.
"You should know what vaccine you’re receiving, and you should ask questions about anything that’s on your mind," she continued.
In this new role as a champion for the state health department, Kneusel is volunteering several hours a week to be a go-to resource for her community.
"More than anything," she said, "to give them a source that they can trust."
Kneusel is finding ways as often as she can – from Zoom meetings with Promotoras to answering questions in Spanish and English on Facebook Live – to empower her community with knowledge about COVID-19 and the vaccine.
Kneusel is hosting another Zoom on Wednesday, Jan. 20 at 6 p.m. MT to continue answering your COVID-19 questions. Anyone is welcome to join.
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