A Clark County lawmaker and the region’s League of United Latin American Citizens have called on Washington health officials to deliver more COVID-19 vaccines to people of color.
They say language barriers and appointment-setting processes that rely heavily on internet access continue to shut out vulnerable groups. They highlighted Latinx community members who work at packing plants for meat or fruit where outbreaks have occurred, such as Foster Farms in Kelso and Firestone Pacific Foods in Vancouver.
“People aren’t safe. We aren’t ensuring our essential workers are kept safe,” said Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, who chairs the state Senate Health Committee. In a letter to Washington Health Secretary Umair Shah, she said “additional efforts or measures are needed to ensure that equity is achieved.”
Specifically, Cleveland recommended Washington provide waivers that give Latinx residents priority in setting vaccine appointments, and to vaccinate workers’ family members for further protection.
The Washington Department of Health was “in the process of addressing” Cleveland’s letter on Wednesday night, a spokesperson said.
Many more vaccine doses have started to arrive in Clark County in recent weeks, following a well-documented shortage, but vaccines remain especially out of reach for the Latinx community, said Ed Hamilton Rosales, president of the Southwest Washington LULAC chapter.
According to Hamilton Rosales, access to secure an appointment is especially difficult for people without internet or those who don’t speak English well enough to navigate other avenues. He said the state offered to help him reserve hundreds of appointments for them, but he also said those health officials gave too short of a window to schedule the appointments.
“These people have experienced the worst side of our community and our nation. It’s time to move the privilege aside so we can take care of our essential workers who continue to work in all these different arenas,” Hamilton Rosales said.
In Clark County, which Cleveland represents, Hispanic, Black and Pacific Islander residents have contracted COVID-19 at higher rates than white residents, according to the latest data from the county health department.
The county does not track vaccine distribution by race or ethnicity. Data tracked at the state-level shows people identifying as Hispanic have received about 5% of vaccines, despite comprising 13% of the population; Black residents have received 2%, compared with 4% of the population; and Pacific Islanders have received 0%, compared with 1% of the population.