Health Team

Translation, personal contact underpin efforts to get COVID-19 vaccine to Durham's immigrant communities

Groups in Durham are taking the effort to spread awareness and access to COVID-19 vaccine to the streets.

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DURHAM, N.C. — Groups in Durham are taking the effort to spread awareness and access to COVID-19 vaccine to the streets.

It is a literal door-to-door project for Siembra NC. On Friday, the group was handing out information and answering questions for the residents of a primarily Hispanic neighborhood.

In the Bull City, about 14% of the population is Hispanic, but only about 5% of the first doses given in the city have been to Hispanic people.

A Siembra NC survey shows that, while 65.7% of those who responded are interested in getting a COVID-19 vaccine, 73.6% did not know how to go about it. So the group decided to meet people where they are – at home – to deliver that message.

"We want to protect our communities, so we are going to go door by door, neighborhood by neighborhood," said Siembra NC organizer Laura Garduño.

The group is asking to help to get that message into more homes.

"We know that there have been a lot of phone calls received on these local hotlines. But we know that the services aren’t always available in Spanish," Garduño said. Siembra NC is asking that the county provide a dedicated hotline for Spanish speakers to get vaccine information and appointments. "Websites should also be available in Spanish," she said.

Durham City Councilman Javiera Caballero joined Friday's door-to-door effort.

"If we actually want to meet this goal that President Biden set out for everyone that everyone over 18 by May should be able to get vaccinated, we’re not going to reach that goal if we don’t do some serious work in the community. I think we’re going to have to put in some serious effort and work if we are going to make the impact that we need to make," she said.

Thao Nguyen, policy lead at Greenlight Durham and a Duke University medical student, said the need goes beyond Spanish.

"We have a large Mandarin speaking population, for example. It’s really difficult for them to receive services because of language."

Nguyen said her own mother is among those who doesn't speak English or Spanish. She had to schedule her mother's appointment and accompany her to translate.

There are resources available, but not all realize they can access them.

"We have folks at Duke, medical students, who will help with these phone calls in Mandarin, help schedule the appointments and at the appointment times, help with interpretation if they need that as well," Nguyen said.

Greenlight and Siembra are partnering with GoDurham to make transportation available to those who need it and are pushing for vaccine clinics in communities where the need is greatest.

"We know that there are certain apartment complexes in Durham that have higher immigrant populations," Caballero said.

"We need to take it right to their doorsteps, because there are just so many barriers in asking them to come to Duke or the health department for example," Nguyen said.