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Local community-based clinic is prioritizing Latinos first for COVID vaccines

A clinic that serves the Latino community in Globeville is screening patients before giving them a vaccine appointment at the clinic.

DENVER — After two months, nearly 71,000 people in Denver County who are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine have gotten their first dose. As vaccines continue to go into arms across Colorado, more and more counties are starting to track the race and ethnicity of people receiving the shots.

According to the Denver Dept. of Public Health & Environment (DDPHE), Denver County's 65 and older population is 18% Latino and 67% white

Of everyone vaccinated in the county so far, 8% are Latino, while 80% are white.

That's why local advocates and health partners like Tepeyac Community Health Center are making a more concerted effort to reach Latinos in Denver County and the surrounding area.

Credit: Denver Public Health
Of everyone vaccinated in Denver county so far, 8% are Latino, 80% are white.

"Unfortunately, it's not always our patient population that is going to our website or calling us to sign up for the vaccine," said Jim Garcia, the CEO of Tepeyac Community Health Center in Globeville. 

The clinic serves a 95% Latino, Spanish-speaking, immigrant and uninsured population. According to Garcia, they can do only 20 vaccines a day, or about 100 per week. That's why Garcia said they have to be very careful who is getting in line for that limited supply of vaccine.  

When Tepeyac Community Health Center staff and leaders started seeing fewer of their own patient demographic showing up for vaccine appointments, they had to make some changes.

"Our focus as a community-based organization serving the Latino community is to make sure that the limited supply of vaccine that we do have is getting to our Latino community," he said. 

But vetting who secures every one of those coveted COVID vaccine appointments is not an easy task for the clinic's staff. 

"It's a challenge," Garcia said. "Our staff has to go through and call people and verify that they fit within the demographic group that we're focused on. It just takes a lot of time and, unfortunately, it takes time away from our patient population. But we have to make sure that we're getting the right people vaccinated."

Since the clinic's increased efforts to prioritize Latinos in the community, 80% of their 200 vaccines have gone to Latinos in the last two weeks.

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Latinos in Colorado and Denver County continue to struggle with COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths disproportionately more than any other race group, according to DDPHE data over the last 11 months. 

At 29% of the population, Latinos represent 47% of the nearly 4,000 COVID hospitalizations in Denver, according to DDPHE data.

"That is why we are working to make sure that these popup sites – in low income, minority communities – are being done," said Deborah Ortega, Denver city councilwoman and fellow vaccine equity advocate. 

Ortega is working on planning more popup vaccine clinics with marketing and outreach targeted at Latino and Black communities.

"It’s very intentional," Ortega said. "Working with the neighborhood nonprofit organizations, the local churches, as well as the voter files of the people in those neighborhoods who are eligible to be vaccinated. It’s a lot of work, but if we want this in our community, that's what it's taking to get it done – bottom line."

While partners like Ortega continue to coordinate and advertise vaccine opportunities for Spanish-speaking households in the Denver metro area, Tepeyac Community Health Center has said they will turn people away who aren't in their demographic. 

"We're letting people know what our priority is and what our focus is and sticking to that," Garcia said. 

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