DENVER — As the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) tries to address slow vaccination rates for communities of color, two local medical experts are giving their suggestions for effectively addressing racial equity for vaccine distribution.
Dr. Kweku Hazel, a surgical fellow for UCHealth's University of Colorado Hospital, and his wife Dr. Cynthia Hazel, a researcher for the Omni Institute, have been reaching out to Black and underserved communities throughout the Denver metro area trying to reassure members that the vaccine is safe.
“We are adding our voices to the information stating that the vaccine is safe and that we can safely take it to protect ourselves and our families” said Dr. Cynthia Hazel. “I know that sometimes the concern is that the vaccine was developed at such record speed — how do we know that it’s going to be safe for me and my family? Right now, given the information that we have, we know that it’s safe.”
Dr. Cynthia Hazel said many members of Black and Latino communities do not trust vaccines given the long histories of medical malpractice within those communities.
“We are all aware about the historical discrimination in regards to access to healthcare and how Black folks have been used in medical experiments without their knowledge. So that definitely does breed some form of mistrust and that has its way of seeping into current or new generations,” Dr. Hazel said.
The CDPHE has been working on setting up clinics in churches and other nontraditional spaces to increase trust and vaccination rates.
Dr. Kweku Hazel said the state can expand on this plan.
“We have to get out there, interact with and meet people where they are… through salons, barbershops, and religious institutions,” he said.
Both doctors said one of the biggest challenges communities of color face is misinformation.
"There is a lot of misinformation ravaging our communities and unfortunately our communities are the communities that have been ravaged by the coronavirus," Dr. Kweku Hazel said.
He said special care should be taken to address misinformation.
Dr. Kweku Hazel and Dr. Cynthia Hazel said they understand the need for vaccinating as many Americans as quickly as possible, but efficiency and equity can happen at the same time.
“As much as we want to get as many people vaccinated as fast as possible, there still needs to be that outreach to minority communities,” said Dr. Cynthia Hazel.
She said equity should not be sacrificed for speed.