By Laaiba Mahmood | @RedLineProject | Posted: Thursday, May 13, 2021
As COVID-19 vaccine demand slows nationwide, the Chicago Department of Public Health is looking to promote vaccine awareness and combat misinformation, especially among 18- to 29-year-olds and Black and Latinx communities.
Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said at a Wednesday press conference that the CDPH is working with community organizations to promote getting vaccinated through existing social networks.
“People are most motivated when their physician recommends the vaccine and about 85% of people say they trust that recommendation, but next is friends or family and that’s above public health in terms of trust,” Arwady said. “That’s expected, but it means that continued work with providers, continued work with friends and family to be having these conversations and highlighting how effective and safe this vaccine is, remains really critical.”
Arwady endorsed college campuses requiring vaccination for their students in the fall as schools transition to greater in-person activities which increase the likelihood of close contact that would transmit the virus. DePaul, Loyola and most recently Northwestern have done so.
“We’ve seen a number of the private universities here and around the country make the decision to require vaccination before return in the fall,” Arwady said. “That certainly is something that I am supportive of, given that particularly in congregate living settings like dormitories we have seen a lot of potential for COVID spread and have had to use a lot of public health resources in university settings to help try to control COVID.”
As employees return to workplaces and schools reopen, CDPH is looking for ways to resolve disparities in vaccine dose administration among 18- to 29-year-olds and Black and Latinx people.
More than half of both white and Asian Chicagoans in that 18- to 29-year-old group have gotten at least their first dose, Arwady said. But, only 39% of Latinx Chicagoans in that youngest 18- to 29-year-old group have gotten a first dose and only 15% of Black Chicagoans in the 18- to 29-year-old group have gotten that first dose, she said.
Chicago’s Black and Latinx communities have faced a disproportionate struggle with the virus and its effects, having had the most cases, hospitalizations and deaths from the virus due to a variety of reasons.
“We know much more about how healthy someone is has to do with their access to housing, their access to education, their access to a good paying job, a clean environment, a safe environment,” Arwady said. “All of these things together are just as or more important than healthcare access.”
As mass vaccination sites are shutting down, CDPH is shifting toward bringing vaccines to communities through initiatives like going door to door and bringing vaccine buses to neighborhoods across Chicago.
Vaccine hesitancy cuts across racial and age demographics, but CDPH is working through an equity lense to prioritize promoting vaccination among communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the spread of COVID-19. The city’s Protect Chicago Plus program emphasized providing vaccines with minimal barriers to 15 “high-need” community areas.
CDPH has also partnered with City Colleges of Chicago to offer a Vaccine Ambassador Course through which ambassadors can learn about the American healthcare system, vaccine hesitancy and how to approach conversations about vaccination in their communities.
Across Chicago, COVID-19 cases are dropping. However, some communities will continue to be at risk for virus spread.
“The concern is that across the country we are quite likely to end up with sectors of the population geographically and in terms of social networks that have very high vaccination rates where COVID is not going to spread very much,” Arwady said. “Unfortunately I worry that we are going to have geographic areas and social networks that are not very well protected so even a single case would likely spread more aggressively.”
When it comes to herd immunity and nationwide benchmarks for fighting the pandemic, Arwady emphasized that the individuals across the whole city—not just a few community areas—should be getting vaccinated.
“So [for] our goal to get Chicago past COVID, it’s not enough to just hit a percent across the whole city,” Arwady said. “Yes, President Biden said we want 70% of adults to have a first dose by July 4. We’re aiming for that and we’re at about 59% right now so I think we might be able to get there. But if it’s 100% on the North Side and 30% on the South Side, that does not get us past COVID.”
The CDPH continues to highlight COVID-19 testing, masks and vaccination as important tools for curbing the spread of the virus and protecting communities across the city. For more information on COVID-19 vaccines and safety measures, visit the CDPH website.
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