by Charla Nich, Vaccinate Fair Haven!
COVID struck people of color differently, devastating entire families and communities. COVID hospitalizations and deaths in Connecticut have disproportionately affected people of color – and the vaccination rollout is the same.
During the worst months of the pandemic, hospitalization rates were 3 times as high for people of color and death rates were 2 times as high compared to whites. Currently. while 45% of white residents in Connecticut have been fully vaccinated, only 24% of Black and Latino residents have.
The state’s response to the crisis in communities of color has been horribly inadequate, highlighting the structural inequities that continue to exist. Since the outset of the pandemic, the state’s response to the hardest-hit communities of color has been neglectful and woefully inadequate. People of color continue to face structural barriers that the state has largely ignored – lack of access to vaccines, language barriers (a state website that continues to be largely in English), access to wifi, access to computers, and transportation challenges. This has led to the existing disparities that currently exist and that the state has failed to address.
Fair Haven fought back! Vaccinate Fair Haven! is a community-led effort and a response to the state’s neglect. It targeted a low-income zip code – a New Haven section rich with culture and largely populated by Latines and African Americans. This is the only such canvassing project in the country with the objective of knocking on every door in an entire zip code to bring trained bilingual health promoters to talk with residents about the importance of vaccination and schedule eligible residents on the spot – offering free transportation to those who needed it and in-home shots to the homebound.
Over 400 volunteers and 16 community groups tackled the disparity together. Volunteers were trained, “turfs” were assigned, and people walked and knocked on doors. From the March 13th launch and many days since, volunteers walked, knocked, called, and staffed the vaccination site. They left informational flyers behind at every single house. On May 5, VFH accomplished its mission – knocking on every single one of the 5,648 doors in Fair Haven.
Did Vaccinate Fair Haven! impact the COVID vaccination rates? Early results are promising. In January, 30% of the vaccinations the Fair Haven Community Health Center provided were for people of color, and in April 79% of those vaccinated were people of color. Across the state, 17% of first-time vaccinations were administered to people of color. In Fair Haven, 52% of first dose vaccinations were administered to people of color.
The Vaccinate Fair Haven! efforts to address the racial/ ethnic disparities by reducing the systemic barriers – language, transportation, information access, internet access – have resulted in greatly improved vaccination rates for our neighbors.