Since the earliest days of COVID-19 vaccine availability, Chicago’s Latino and Black communities have fought for vaccine equity. In January, the city responded to that call with the Protect Chicago Plus program, which prioritizes vaccines to the neighborhoods hit hardest by the virus.
Now, community organizers are leading the charge to get their residents vaccinated. In neighborhoods like La Villita and Back of the Yards, outreach workers are taking a ground-up approach to registering residents for vaccinations by meeting them in grocery stores and taquerias, and through texts and social media.
Yadira Sanchez, senior manager of community health at Enlace Chicago, leads a pandemic response team of 10 that performs outreach work in the neighborhoods in collaboration with the Protect Chicago Plus program.
“We have a static location that has been providing vaccines at our Harding location of Enlace, which is our main building as well as the Esperanza Clinic center,” said Sanchez. “In addition to that, we are hosting events in the community to help individuals that couldn’t get an appointment at one of those clinics to come out on a Saturday, which is on a weekend and it could be more flexible for those folks that work all week long to come and get the vaccine. “
Mayra Martinez, a youth leader with the community organization Increase the Peace, says the organization’s youth ambassadors have been hitting the streets to get the word out about the vaccine.
“We’ve been meeting people where they’re at,” Martinez says. “We know that there are a lot of residents in Back of the Yards…who don’t have access to the internet, who may not get the information they need to receive the vaccine. So we’ve been going to grocery stores, walking down 47th Street in our neighborhoods, to meet people who may not have the resources and communicate with them and even register them to receive the vaccine in their local areas.”
Sanchez says Enlace’s community health workers have built trust with community members over the duration of the pandemic by bringing them information in their native language.
“We have the benefit of our promotores de salud, our research navigators who are community health workers. They speak the language, so they can relate to individuals and are able to communicate with families.”
And Martinez reports that walking with community members through the last year – in her case, often literally to the vaccination point – has paid off in vaccination uptake rates.
“People are so excited to even talk about the vaccine…even when they are in line about to get [the vaccine], they always ask me, ‘how was your experience with the vaccine? What are the side effects? What can I take to alleviate them if I get them?’ And some people even get emotional when they hear about the vaccine because some families have been hit so hard, have had family pass away due to COVID. They’re just so excited and sometimes you get emotional at the thought of, you know, finally getting there.”