The Colorado Springs Community Action Coalition will host a Zoom webinar at 5 p.m. Feb. 27 to provide COVID-19 vaccine information to community members. A panel of Black medical professionals and Dr. Robin Johnson, El Paso County Public Health medical director, will provide the community with vaccine facts and address current local vaccination procedures. The webinar is aiming to reach the African American community, specifically, but all are welcome to attend.

“One of our goals is to build vaccine confidence through comprehensive community engagement,” said Michelle Hewitt, El Paso County Public Health public information officer. “By having trusted and recognizable community leaders expand outreach efforts and voice confidence in the vaccine, it helps foster understanding and buy in from the community. Our aim is to equip people with the facts they need to make the most informed decisions, and we could not accomplish this without our countless community partners. The Colorado Springs Community Action Coalition has been a tremendous partner, and we look forward to continuing to work together.”

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The Colorado Springs Community Action Coalition will host an informational webinar Feb. 27 at 5 p.m. regarding the COVID-19 vaccine.

A recent study from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 35 percent of Black adults reported that “they definitely or probably would not get vaccinated,” compared to 27 percent of the general public. “There is an apprehension about vaccination for one reason or another,” said Dr. Khrystyl Pepi, a panelist and physician with Mountain View Medical Group. “That reason could be distrust of the science, distrust of the government, distrust of the medical field, as well as misinformation or purely due to being under- or uninformed. Black Americans have lots of reasons to fall into any of these categories.”

Dr. Marvin Lee, an internal medicine doctor who works as a hospitalist across Colorado, says the first step is to acknowledge the medical profession’s historical relationship with Black patients. “I happen to be from Tuskegee, Alabama, where the Tuskegee Experiment occurred, where Black men with syphilis were told that they were being treated, but were not being treated so that the medical community could study and understand the natural course of syphilis,” he says. “I think the first part of it is acknowledging that our bodies have been taken for granted, and in many cases abused, by this system. If you don’t acknowledge that history, a lot of folks in our community are not going to be listening. There is a percentage of folks who know that history, and unless you acknowledge that up front that you’re aware of it as well, probably you’re not going to have a very receptive ear.”

El Paso County Public Health and health care providers in Colorado Springs have worked on a number of equity vaccine events, specifically targeting communities of color and underserved populations. “When we look at Peak Vista and our mission in the community to serve everyone and ensure there’s no access barriers to health care, that also pours over into the vaccine as well,” said Robert Nartker, chief operating officer of Peak Vista Community Health Centers. Peak Vista held an equity vaccine clinic Feb. 19-20 at its Jet Wing Drive location. “We want to make sure we make a special emphasis to understand and ensure that all of those who need a vaccine, that we’ve actually reached out to them. Our emphasis today and tomorrow is to make sure that we are reaching those communities: the African American, Hispanic, and Latino communities, so that they have opportunity to receive the vaccine as well. That, in conjunction with our other health care partners throughout Colorado Springs, Peak Vista has worked very diligently in making sure that we reach out to those communities and provide that vaccine to them.”

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District 4 City Council representative Yolanda Avila and Robert Nartker, chief operating officer of Peak Vista Community Health Centers, during the Equity Vaccine Clinic Feb. 19

District 4 City Councilor Yolanda Avila was present Feb. 19 to receive her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. She emphasized the importance of vaccination, as communities of color have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. “White individuals are three times more likely to get the vaccine than Latinos, and twice as likely to get it than our African American brothers and sisters,” Avila said. “It’s important, and we are more impacted by COVID. We have more COVID positive cases. I was talking to [CEO] Joel Yuhas from UCHealth, who said that one-third of the patients who are dying from COVID are Latino, so it’s to make sure there’s equity involved. We’re on the front lines, we have a lot of interactions, and a lot of us take the bus. We live in multi-generational housing, so it’s so important that we get out there, we get vaccinated to get this virus behind us.”

Lee has seen firsthand the impact that COVID-19 has had on communities in Colorado. “Because I work in these small, rural communities, in Delta, for example — and this is pretty typical — I don’t think any of my patients were African American, but still people from not-privileged backgrounds,” he explains. “Sometimes people equate racial things with socioeconomics when really the socioeconomic thing is probably more important than whether you have brown skin. There is a hospital I’ve worked in in Denver where most of the folks that I saw with COVID, particularly with bad outcomes, were either Latino or African American, for sure. I’ve seen 50-year-olds go in with no medical problems, other than obesity, which is probably a big risk-factor for death, and come out unable to care from themselves because they’re so debilitated from the illness.”

Southeast Colorado Springs, which reports almost 12 percent of El Paso County’s 51,463 COVID-19 cases as of Feb. 25, is particularly affected by socioeconomic factors. According to U.S. Census data, the average median household income in ZIP codes 80910 and 80916 is $34,612, compared to $64,712, the amount for Colorado Springs as a whole. Southeast Colorado Springs is also impacted by racial disparities, being the only majority minority region in the city. “We are 39 percent Latino, 16 percent African American, and we have other indigenous groups as well as Asians, so yeah, it’s so important [to get vaccinated] here in Southeast,” said Avila. 

Pepi notes that Black patients also have more comorbidities, or coexisting conditions, that can complicate COVID-19 treatment. “I am making sure that all my patients have access to the medications, lab tests, studies, and care that they need on a regular basis,” she said via email. “This is especially important during this pandemic because we know that Black Americans have a higher rate of certain conditions (obesity, hypertension, diabetes)  that can lead to poorer outcomes should they become ill with COVID-19.”

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Centura Health held a mass-vaccination event Feb. 13 at the Broadmoor World Arena. They worked with community health partners like RISE to reach underserved communities.

Lee said providing accurate information about the vaccine is important. “There’s one part of the perception of this that these vaccines have come out way too quickly,” he said. “I try to point out to people that this is the third coronavirus outbreak of this century. There was SARS 1, earlier in China. There was MERS, Middle Eastern Respiratory Virus, around 2012 or so. A lot of military people would be familiar with it, just because it affected your ability to be mobile in Middle East. This is the third [coronavirus], so though these vaccines came out quickly, at least in the perception if you follow the media cycle, there’s actually been work developing coronavirus vaccines for a while. At least a decade, but probably more. I think that’s important to bring to light. It’s definitely been a coordinated effort, and there’s certainly some urgency in bringing it out quickly, but people were already thinking about coronavirus before this pandemic.”

Lee also points out that African American participation in the development of the vaccine has been significant. “There were several African Americans in the studies, which is not typical,” he said. “I think it was around 10 to 11 percent. In fact, my little brother was in the Moderna trial, so there was more participation in the studies. There were also more African American scientists and physicians that participated as well.”

Pepi said, “It is important for people, especially people of color, to get the vaccine because this is our shot to stop the spread of COVID-19, stop the pandemic, save lives (maybe even our own), and get back to living the social, interactive, healthy lives that we all yearn for.”

Join the Zoom webinar:

5 p.m. Feb. 27

zoom.us/j/94119498059?pwd=cUlqMzBuTEtrOGJ5QTZJS0ZJeTZBQT09

Meeting ID: 941 1949 8059

Passcode: 823188

Phone Number: 346-248-7799

Heidi Beedle is a former soldier, educator, activist, and animal welfare worker. She received a Bachelor’s in English from UCCS. She has worked as a freelance writer covering LGBTQ issues, nuclear disasters, cattle mutilations, and social movements.