Clinic set to address vaccine inequity

The clinic will be held 9-11 a.m., May 6 at Island Drug in Oak Harbor.

A special clinic recommended by a new group that’s working to change the racial disparity in COVID-19 vaccinations will be held Thursday in Oak Harbor.

The clinic for Black, indigenous and people of color, or BIPOC, will be held 9-11 a.m., May 6 at Island Drug in Oak Harbor. No appointments, ID cards or insurance are required. Translation services in multiple languages will be available.

The Island County commissioners created a community panel earlier this year to address the lack of equity in vaccine distribution. The clinic is the first action the county has taken in response to a recommendation from the group.

Irene Vernon, a member of the group who’s a scholar with a doctorate in ethnic studies, said the idea of having a walk-in clinic dedicated to people of color — and with no ID or insurance required — is meant to create a comfortable, welcoming space.

“There’s something about going to a place, especially if you are leery to begin with, and seeing other people who look like you,” she said.

Larry Behrendt, also a member of the panel, said one of the challenges facing the county is in getting the word out to underserved communities. Much of the communication from the county, or government in general, more easily reaches the whiter, more affluent population, whether it’s through relationships in the community, social media, old-fashioned mail or word of mouth. He said he spent the weekend handing out flyers about the clinic to places around the island.

Behrendt pointed out that the latest statistics from the county show a substantial discrepancy between vaccination rates for minority groups as compared to the white population. The gap is greater in the county than it is across the state on average.

The newest numbers show that 35 percent of white people in Island County have been vaccinated, while only 14.5 percent of African-Americans, 26 percent of Asian-Americans and 27 percent of Native Americans or Alaska Natives have been. However, the vaccination rate for Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders is nearly 42 percent.

In addition, nearly 16 percent of Latinos have gotten a vaccine while 31.5 percent of non-Latinos have.

The county’s statistics do not include vaccinations at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island or those who declined to provide ethnicity information.

As for the community panel, Vernon said it’s taken some time for the members to figure out what their role in county government is, but she believes it is vital for leaders to hear from people focused on equity and social justice in health care — where the inequities have long been clearly documented.

The group hopes to start open dialogues with different groups in the community and to listen.

“There are all kinds of issues we want to start addressing,” she said. “It’s all about saving lives.”

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