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Opinion: Access and information, not hesitancy, are the biggest challenges in getting more Coloradans vaccinated

The hesitancy we need to confront is not in the hearts and minds of Coloradans of color — it is in the institutions that exist to serve them.

JBS employee Luis Arellano, left, receives his first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine from Kaiser Permanente medical assistant Liz Negron, right, during a two-day COVID-19 vaccination clinic inside the JBS Greeley Beef plant in Greeley March 5, 2021. (Alex McIntyre, The Greeley Tribune)

As vaccination rates decline across the country, a story has taken hold that “hesitancy” or “resistance” are the barriers we must clear to stop the pandemic. 

We surveyed thousands of Coloradans recently and heard a different story: Our neighbors want this life-saving vaccine — they either don’t know how to get to it or face a forbidding process that stops them short. 

Eric Parrie and Kaakpema “KP” Yelpaala

The challenge we must solve together is one of access, not interest.

In partnership with the Colorado School of Public Health, we surveyed 4,905 Coloradans between March 24 and April 5 to understand their attitude toward and access to COVID-19 vaccines. 

Of those who had not yet been vaccinated, 55% wanted the vaccine and 22% were unsure; 25% of survey respondents identified as Latino and 11% preferred Spanish as their default language. 

The most consistently-named barriers for the unvaccinated were not knowing a) how to book an appointment or b) where to go to get a dose. This echoes the results of a recent survey of five cities outside Colorado from the Rockefeller Foundation and Brown University School of Public Health.

The message and mandate in this data is clear: Coloradans, particularly in communities of color, lack information about the vaccine, not interest in receiving it. 

The hesitancy we need to confront is not in the hearts and minds of Coloradans of color — it is in the institutions that exist to serve them. As leaders in Colorado, we cannot wait another day to deliver what our neighbors have told us they need.

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

To get this life-saving vaccine to communities most in need, we need to meet people where they are with mobile vaccine clinics, like those that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has arranged with buses in rural parts of the state and pop-ups around Pueblo.

We also need to offer more flexible hours at existing locations, allow for walk-in vaccinations, and deliver accurate information delivered through trusted partners. 

We also need employers to advertise and take advantage of smart state and federal policies that make it easy for their staff to take paid time off to get vaccinated. 

And if we truly want everyone to get the vaccine, we cannot preclude anyone from receiving it by asking for proof of insurance or identification.

Our digital divide compounds health inequity. Months ago, it was relatively easy for affluent Coloradans and others from out of state to scout for doses online, travel several hours if needed, and take a paid day off if they felt ill after their dose. 

These are not options for essential workers in our state who support families with low-wage hours, lack regular Internet access, and cannot take time off.

These are tough challenges, but there is something we can do about them right now — in fact, organizations across the state are already taking action. We need to scale these efforts and target them. 

To address the vaccine information gap, we’ve partnered with community organizations across the Front Range to go door to door to register folks for vaccines right on their front porches. 

To date, our coalition has knocked 75,000 doors and booked over 7,000 appointments for Coloradans of color. This is an important and useful approach — it also can’t get the job done alone.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

Urgent action is especially critical for our Latino neighbors. At current rates, we will not vaccinate 75% of our Latino neighbors until April 2022. The stakes remain high, as that stretch of time is measured not just in days but in deaths. 

While the fortunate among us start to book summer travel, the ongoing toll of the pandemic will continue to disproportionately harm communities of color. When the virus has fewer places to go, it chooses the only hosts left — the unvaccinated among us. 

This means that a pandemic that has had a particularly harsh impact on Latino families to date could have one of its worst chapters in store for them. Even now, eight families a day in Colorado are burying a loved one due to COVID. 

We can prevent that and we must. Our community has told us what they want and need. Now, leaders from the grassroots to the governor’s office must link arms to redouble a commitment to frictionless access and clear information.


Eric Parrie is the CEO of COVIDCheck Colorado, a social benefit enterprise of Gary Community Investments. Kaakpema “KP” Yelpaala is the CEO and co-founder of InOn Health (formerly access.mobile USA), a company dedicated to improving health access, equity and outcomes.


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