Colorado fulfills the promise of vaccine equity, but more needs to be done
By Ashwin Sarwal, Colorado Alliance for Health Equity, and Practice & Family Medicine Clinic Staff
The vaccine effort in Colorado has been quite successful. As of June 25, 3.3 million Coloradoans have been vaccinated with at least one dose, while 2.9 million have been fully vaccinated. It is also remarkable that there are now over 1,400 Colorado clinics providing these vaccines. The unified effort in Colorado to encourage equitable distribution of vaccines is noteworthy and facilities such as Mile High United Way’s Ride and Uber now provide free rides to vaccination sites across Colorado.
Specific populations have unique barriers and concerns about vaccination. Acknowledging the differences in various communities can ensure that interventions address priority populations’ needs. There has also been an emphasis on mobile vaccine events and vaccine delivery at various locations within community enclaves.
Recently, Colorado has seen a 39% decline in the cases of COVID-19. This success can be attributed to the formation of the Colorado Vaccine Equity Taskforce and The Metro Denver Partnership for Health in order to ensure that all groups, regardless of race, ethnicity, insurance, transportation and language barriers, can be supported. Our clinic – Colorado Alliance for Health Equity and Practice and Family Medicine Clinic (CAHEP-FMC) is a member of the Vaccine Equity group of clinics contributing to the significant mission of vaccine equity.
Never before have we seen such a selfless spirit of volunteerism – nurses who can vaccinate, community leaders supporting enrollment, interpretation and translation services, and raising awareness and care-coordination effort for the first and second dose at events within their community. The remarkable outpouring from healthcare professionals, active and retired, has been heartwarming. Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment now provides medical professionals for many Vaccine Equity clinics by request. We are also now net positive in the supply of vaccine doses available to the clinics certified in the state vaccine program.
CAHEP-FMC has contributed by supporting numerous Vaccine Equity clinics and events all across the Denver metro region in coordination with community partners. Some noteworthy events are mentioned and images provided: a) The Hindi Temple of the Rockies, b) Shirdi Sai Baba Indian Temple, c) Denver Sikh Gurudwara, d) City of Aurora drive-thru events at the Aurora Municipal Center (April 20 through August 30), e) Second Chance Center in Aurora, f) Jewish teachers organizations, g) Asian/Korean community vaccine clinics, h) uninsured families from the Mexican Consulate; and many others.
The racial inequities of COVID-19 are well documented, locally and nationally. As of June 21, 2021, CDC reported that race/ethnicity was known for 59% of people, who had received at least one dose of the vaccine. Among this group, nearly two thirds were White (60%), 9% were Black, 15% were Hispanic, 6% were Asian, 1% were American Indian or Alaska Native, and <1% were Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, while 8% reported multiple or other race.
CDC data also showed that recent vaccinations are reaching larger shares of Hispanic, Asian, and Black populations. Thirty percent of vaccines administered in the past 14 days were to Hispanic people, 7% to Asian people, and 12% to Black people (kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19.) The race and ethnicity population distribution in Colorado is 78% White, 3% Black, 11% Hispanic, 4% Asian and 4% other.
However, there are other countries who are in much worse shape than the US. Recently we were exposed to gut-wrenching images of death and sickness in India due to COVID-19 infections. It was like a tsunami and India was caught completely off-guard. One big problem was that till mid-June only less than 7% people have been fully vaccinated and 14% have received at least one dose. For the past weeks, India has been in a second wave that is ten times more serious than its worst moments last year. According to WHO India now makes up 50% of global COVID-19 cases and 30% of deaths. Despite the recent decline, the caseload is still extremely high.
The variant, known as B.1.617.2, has mutations that make it more transmissible and prone to infecting younger demographics. We can expect additional variants to appear. It is clear that the vaccine effort has to be stepped up in many Asian countries such that together we can fully eradicate this disease.
The US is now sending millions of coronavirus vaccine doses around the world, including Latin America, Indian sub-continent and Africa. Unfortunately, global herd immunity remains out of reach because of inequitable vaccine distribution – 99% of people in poor countries are unvaccinated.
Have we turned the corner on this vicious disease in the US? Things seem to be headed in the right direction in the US, in large part due to current policies and the fact that the country has produced large quantities of two of the world’s best vaccines: Pfizer and Moderna. But it is quite apparent there is much more work to be done, globally. It is imperative that all countries work together to ensure this disease is eradicated and under control. The experience of this pandemic should make us better prepared in the future.