Online sign-ups a hurdle
Many older adults “don’t have the skills” to sign up online, Ramirez said. “They might not even have a computer,” she added.
“Just the insistence that our elected officials and the people who set up the vaccine distribution for them to use technology as the first way to access vaccine, that in itself is a huge barrier,” Ramirez said.
In Austin, the technology barrier is such that vaccination clinics that do get set up in minority communities are often overwhelmed by white people coming in from other areas hoping to get a shot, Ramirez said.
“Because the portal where people access is for everyone, we see that a lot of people from other areas of town that are more affluent are coming into our community and using the majority of the vaccine,” Ramirez said. “When you look at the statistics, only about 9% of Latinos are getting the vaccine, 2.2% of African Americans, and the rest are white.”
Many people also are reluctant to get vaccinated due to misinformation that has spread due to a lack of public health information targeted to Black and Hispanic communities, the experts said.
“There has been a lack of information regarding vaccines, their safety and why people should take it,” Ramirez said. “In the absence of good information, we have a lot of misinformation taking root.”
Faced with all this, community groups have taken matters into their own hands.
Clark-Amar’s group set up a call center to help seniors get signed up for vaccination.
“We have care managers, social workers, on the phones that are filling out the online process for them, scheduling it for them, printing all the pre-consent forms, prefilling those,” Clark-Amar said. “We have buses, our own transportation, so we go pick them up and make sure they get vaccinated, wherever it is.”
Call centers, churches and ice cream trucks
By the end of February, the health authority in Austin is expected to open a multilingual call center, Ramirez said.
The community groups also are taking it upon themselves to spread the word about vaccine safety.