Denver elected leaders and health experts seek to address COVID-19 vaccine disparities after recent data

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DENVER — On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the trailblazing icon for Civil Rights is remembered while communities across the country acknowledge progress and continued calls for equality in America.

In Colorado, public records requests done by The Gazette and Colorado Politics highlight disparities by Coloradans of color in the ongoing COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

“We’re just seeing for the first time some really concerning numbers, where one in 16 white Coloradans have been able to access the vaccine thus far in the categories that have been opened up. Whereas only one in 50 Latino Coloradans and one in 35 Black Coloradans have been able to receive the vaccine,” Sen. Julie Gonzales, D-Denver, said. Knowing that we’re still in those beginning first phases of vaccine distribution is cause for concern.”

The recent data has been reported at a particularly emotional time for Gonzales and her family. Last week, her family held a funeral for three of her family members that died due to COVID-19 complications.

“They all lived together, all got sick and died from COVID-19,” Gonzales said. “We had a triple funeral. My mother-in-law, my husband’s uncle, my husband’s grandfather all passed away,” Gonzales said.

Gonzales acknowledged her pain is not a singular experience during the ongoing pandemic.

“My family story is not unique. It’s been born out in the data that Latinos and Blacks and other communities of color are getting sick and dying of COVID-19 disproportionate rates,” Gonzales said.

She said the death rate among people of color infected with COVID-19 has motivated her and others to ensure vaccination rates are improved among Coloradans of color.

“Some of the barriers that we know exist are things like whether or not you have the ability to access the internet, whether or not you’re able to speak English and navigate this medical jargon, whether or not you have access to reliable transportation,” Gonzales said.

She added the barriers highlight a necessity for vaccine clinics and information to be placed in accessible areas for Colorado’s Black and Latinx communities.

“The Black and Latino caucuses are going to be meeting with the Governor’s Office this week. We want to see action. We want to see concrete plans. We want to see dates on calendars,” Gonzales said.

Public health experts say levels of trust also contribute to the numbers of Black and Latinx Coloradans that receive the vaccine.

“Our community is always going to question ‘is this for us? Is this something against us, or is this really for us? Who are the trusted people? Who do we trust? Why should we trust people? Why do we trust this vaccine? What’s going to be different? Are we going to be guinea pigs? Are they going to be experimenting on us once again?'” said Dr. Terri Richardson, Vice Chair of the Colorado Black Health Collaborative.

Richardson recently shared photos of her receiving the COVID-19 vaccine online to reassure community members.

“That’s the reason I did it. I believe I am trusted in the community. Someone trusted in the community is going to get the shot and willing to share. I did it to encourage others,” Richardson said. “We need to see people that look like us.”