“A matter of life and demise”: Prosperous, whiter neighborhoods in Aurora have larger COVID-19 vaccination charges

AURORA | For most Aurors, the vaccine can’t come soon enough.

However, a combination of distribution issues and distrust has led to early differences between Aurora around seven weeks after the first vaccine dose in the area. Data from the Tri-County Health Department shows that wealthier zip codes with more white residents on Aurora’s southern and eastern flanks have higher vaccination rates than downtown.

The 80016 postal code of Southeast Aurora, which includes the neighborhoods of Southlands, Tallyn’s Reach, and Saddlerock, currently has the highest vaccination rate in the city.

There, almost 70% of residents aged 70 and over had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by February 2. The median household income there is more than $ 123,000 a year, and the zip code contains some of the city’s whitest neighborhoods.

In north-west Aurora ZIP codes 80010 and 80011, the vaccination rate for the same age group is 11% each. These postcodes cover much more diverse neighborhoods with higher proportions of black and Spanish residents. The average household income is less than $ 60,000 per year.

A map from the Tri County Health Department shows wealthier and whiter zip codes in Aurora have higher vaccination rates. Screenshot via tchd.org

Karen Miller, the Tri-County’s vaccination manager for nurses, told Sentinel it was early days to vaccinate elderly residents. It is the first stage of public vaccination.

But “you can start to see the differences,” she said.

This is frustrating for some community leaders, who point out that Black and Hispanic residents suffered from high virus rates during the pandemic and are in dire need of the vaccine.

“We need to step up the game in Aurora,” said Omar Montgomery, who heads the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of People of Color. “The question is, what is Tri-County doing?”

Officials in Tri-county and upper levels of state government say they stand ready to quickly address inequalities. Tri-County will be releasing an equity plan in the coming days, accelerating partnerships with community hub experts that are vital to the delivery of footage.

Also recognizing the nationwide differences, Governor Jared Polis has pledged to provide 10% of the state’s vaccine supply only to low-income and minority communities who have proven to be harder to reach or are more skeptical of mass vaccination efforts.

Polis told the Sentinel that the differences were “extremely alarming”.

Why does it happen

Overall, 7.5% of the 1.5 million residents in Adams, Arapahoe, and Douglas counties have received at least one vaccination shot as of Feb.2. This includes healthcare workers, nursing home workers, and residents aged 70 and over.

The racial and class differences within this group are not unique to Aurora. They are also unfolding in Denver and the United States

“This was a big problem in the vaccine era,” said Glen Mays, chair of the Department of Health Systems, Management and Policy at the Colorado School of Public Health, of the trends. “We knew this was a probability, a reality that we had to plan and respond to. And it definitely plays out. ”

Community leaders and public health experts told Sentinel that the rollout so far has been uneven in part due to unequal access to health care.

Mays said the major hospital networks that deliver much of the vaccine to Aurors – including Kaiser Permanente and UCHealth – have so far relied on their own customer lists to post information about how and where to get the shot. This effectively prioritizes people who already have access to health care and are likely to be more affluent and automatically “guarantees” differences.

Adam Anderson, a health data scientist in Tri-county, said similar differences exist in other types of health care – not just vaccines.

For example, health officials need to deliberately provide options for low-income mothers who may have difficulty getting traditional health care and even food. Tri-County has also set up clinics for teenagers and needle users in certain areas of the city that have had higher teen pregnancy rates or drug use, for example.

This is a tactic they want to use more heavily in the vaccination campaign.

However, Tri-County’s data is still rough. Anderson noted that there are many different nuances when looking at whole zip codes, and the current data dashboard doesn’t break down vaccination rates by race and neighborhood. So they don’t yet know exactly how or where they will address hard-to-reach people.

However, health officials generally know they need to offer more vaccination options for blacks and Hispanics in low-income communities.

During COVID-19, these aurors contracted COVID-19 and died from the virus at disproportionately high rates, the experts said. This is true in Denver and the US in general, and it is a reality that makes vaccination problems particularly dangerous and worrying for community leaders.

“We have to change it – like now, because they die. The worst is in our churches, ”said Pastor Thomas Mayes of Living Water Christian Center Church.

Still, Mayes and other black community leaders said there was widespread suspicion of the vaccine campaign.

Patrick Demmer, pastor of a predominantly black church in Commerce City, said this was to be expected given the medical horrors wrought by large health institutions and the government over the past few decades. He found that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention purposely infected black men with syphilis under the guise of free health care in the infamous Tuskegee study between the 1930s and 1970s. This trauma plays a big role in cultural memory.

“There is a huge lack of trust and suspicion when you talk about vaccines and vaccines and things like that,” Demmer said.

Demmer also said he heard some people say, “Well, maybe it’s the mark of the beast,” or wonder if it will change their DNA.

Reluctance or complete distrust of the vaccine is also widespread in the northern boroughs of Aurora in Ward I, said councilor Crystal Murillo, who represents the area. It is home to a concentration of Hispanic Aurora residents.

“I think there is so much concern about ‘is it safe?'” Said Murillo.

She said her grandmother, who is from Mexico, placed more emphasis on “natural remedies” based on her cultural beliefs than on a government-distributed shot.

Polis said polls confirm this.

“As our initial surveys and data show, there is simply higher vaccine reluctance among Black Americans, and to a lesser extent Hispanic Americans,” he said.

Montgomery, the city’s NAACP chief, has helped organize forums where black residents can ask a health professional directly questions about vaccine safety. The state is also working with Spanish-language newspapers to spread a message of trust.

How the health authorities are going to fix this

Health officials hope to build confidence in the entire vaccination process for low-income residents and minority groups who have not previously been able to book an appointment or would prefer not to get the shot.

Tri-County was still in the process of planning a ramped stock plan as of Jan. 29. However, Miller said plans are moving “very, very quickly” in the vaccine drive, where doses sometimes suddenly become available or evaporate after botched federal plans.

Mays, the school of public health expert, said vaccination events in churches, barber shops, community centers, and other hubs in the neighborhood can build that trust and increase rates. He suggested that Tri-County could deploy a fleet of mobile vaccination units and launch mass vaccination events in certain neighborhoods with high infection rates and low vaccinations.

He said there was “tons of data and studies to support this”.

Tri-County and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment have already touted these community partnerships as an important part of the plan. Now they will be provided with 10% of the vaccine supply specially designed for underreached populations aged 65 and over.

Depending on the local partnership, a vaccine from the state government’s vaccination group can be taken to a hospital and then to a place of worship, whose staff call community members directly and help them get there on time for the shot.

Some of these partnerships have already arrived at Aurora. On January 23, about 200 mostly black parishioners were vaccinated at the Colorado Church of God at Christ Headquarters on 750 Chambers Road.

Elsewhere, the Salud Family Health Centers are busy distributing the vaccine to their clientele, which is mostly made up of low-income residents and minorities. The STRIDE Community Health Center was also a key partner in vaccinating hard-to-reach residents, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

But Mayes and Montgomery said they needed to see more of this work. Local pastors had to refer Aurors to churches in East Denver and Commerce City for their vaccinations.

“We have nothing in Aurora that deals with the amount that would really make a difference,” Mayes said.

Tri-county officials told Sentinel that after doubling their equity efforts, basic demographics will also be on their side to correct the differences.

Over the next few weeks and months, more and more members of the general population will be vaccinated, beyond the specialized healthcare workers or nursing home residents, who tend to be white and wealthier.

Mayes said that day can’t come soon enough.

“Inequality is a really terrifying thing and it seems like we can just talk about it and not change it,” he said. “Because it has to be changed right now, like yesterday. It is indeed a matter of life and death and not something to play with. ”

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