KSL Investigates: Utah Minorities Lag Behind In COVID-19 Vaccinations

Mar 1, 2021, 10:15 PM | Updated: Jun 19, 2022, 9:57 pm

TAYLORSVILLE, Utah — Utah’s minority communities have been hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, with higher case counts and deaths. Vaccines will help curb those trends, but getting shots in arms comes with barriers that many organizations are trying to help overcome.

At a drive-up vaccination clinic in Taylorsville on Saturday, cars rolled up with many ready and willing to get their COVID-19 vaccine.

“What’s important to me is to be able to socialize with my grandkids and my friends again,” said Susi Tavui. “It’s been too long.”

This vaccination clinic wasn’t at a hospital or pharmacy. It was at a meetinghouse of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — a move the clinic’s organizers said was intentional.

“This is a Polynesian ward, a Samoan ward,” explained Utah Pacific Islander Health Coalition organizer Verona Mauga. “Our purpose is to get as many members of our community vaccinated because the impact of COVID-19 has been a hard hit for our community.”

Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders have the highest case rate and mortality rate of COVID-19 in the state, along with the second-highest hospitalization rate. Their community makes up 1.6% of Utah’s population but has comprised 2.4% of all COVID-19 cases.

“It’s important for us to feel safe,” said Mauga. “If we’re going to get vaccinated with a vaccine that’s only been researched for one year, it’s important that you’re with your community leaders and people who you know, and people you trust.”

COVID-19 Affects Minority Communities Unequally

Statewide, many minority populations have seen inequity in the pandemic.

Minority COVID-19 Cases

Current data shows American Indian/Alaska Natives with the highest mortality rate in Utah, with 125.8 deaths per 100,000 people.

The Hispanic community, which accounts for 14% of Utah’s population, had nearly 21% of all COVID-19 infections. At one point in June 2020, that number was as high as 40%.

State and local health departments recognized the inequity and committed to expanding education about coronavirus.

“We really beefed up testing in those communities,” said Tom Hudachko, spokesperson for the Utah Department of Health. “We beefed up messaging with those communities.”

Hudachko said efforts worked and cases dropped. “We started to see the infection rates in racial and ethnic minority communities come more in line with those communities’ share of the Utah population,” he said.

Equity Efforts in Vaccinations

Now, the same stakeholders have turned efforts toward attitudes about the COVID-19 vaccines.

So far, just 3% of Utah’s Hispanic adults have been vaccinated. It’s less for Pacific Islanders and African Americans, with 0.3% and 0.4%, respectively.

Vaccines distributed by race and ethnicity.

“In many of our communities of color, you also have trust issues because of historical injustices within the medical community,” explained Caroline Moreno from the Salt Lake County Health Department. Her team has worked to address this distrust in vaccines.

One of the biggest pieces is partnering with community organizations to improve access and information flow. “[We] ask them, ‘Where are the trusted and safe locations that their communities already are familiar with?’ and then we will set up clinics in those locations.”

That’s where clinics like the one in Taylorsville come into play, one of several set up over the past few weeks. In addition, Moreno said those community partners have been busy helping people sign up for vaccine appointments and providing scientific and medical information on the vaccine options.

Moreno said this partnership is possible through a grant program.

“We have 25 grantees that we’re working with, and we’re distributing $420,000 to these 25 grantees so that they can really run their own education and outreach programs within their communities,” she said. “They know who their communities are — they know the trusted voices.”

The good news is there are often more individuals of these populations wanting to get their vaccinations than there are available appointments.

“I think there are a lot of people who do really just want to get back to the way we were before, and they understand the vaccine is the best shot to get there,” said Moreno.

Susi Tavui receives a vaccine on Feb. 27 at a drive-thru clinic in Taylorsville.

Tavui and her husband showed up at the Taylorsville clinic without an appointment, hoping there would be extra shots. Their efforts paid off. Organizers had 200 doses on hand, with 170 people preregistered.

Salt Lake County will soon roll out an education campaign on vaccines called, “This is Our Shot.” The campaign will include its own website, with versions in English and Spanish.

“This is our shot to get together with family again,” explained Moreno. “This is our shot to get back to life as we know it.”

Holes in Gathering Data

Utah’s Coronavirus dashboard shows 30% of those vaccinated so far did not provide race or ethnicity. Hudachko said this was due to a lack of requirements from the Centers for Disease Control to gather this data.

“In some registration systems, individuals are required to answer that question, and other registration systems are not required to answer that question just because there’s no uniform guidance from CDC,” he said, “so we have a large number of individuals who do not answer that question or possibly are not asked that question.”

How to Get Vaccinated

There are multiple ways to get a COVID-19 vaccine for those currently eligible to receive one:

Additional resources can be found in several different languages at coronavirus.utah.gov.

Have you experienced something you think just isn’t right? The KSL Investigators want to help. Submit your tip at investigates@ksl.com or 385-707-6153 so we can get working for you.

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KSL Investigates: Utah Minorities Lag Behind In COVID-19 Vaccinations