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New Initiative Created To Increase BIPOC Vaccinations In Burlington Area

Vials of COVID-19 vaccine
Jackie Orchard

A new initiative has been launched in Vermont’s most populous county to get people of color vaccinated against COVID-19.

On Wednesday board members of the Vermont Professionals of Color Network joined Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger to discuss a new Vermont Health Equity Initiative.  Burlington Racial Equity, Inclusion & Belonging Department Public Policy and Research Analyst Belan Antensaye says the initiative is intended to close the racial gap in vaccinations.  

“We got into this kind of in my dual roles with the city as well as the professional network in knowing that we could do something to access BIPOC folks and we could see some issues in the way that the state has already run vaccinations and we know kind of how to fix some of those," Antensaye said. "So we stepped in and now we’re doing this bigger clinic effort. And hopefully it’ll turn into something bigger than that.”

Antensaye says the initiative targets hesitancy and accessibility in the BIPOC community. 

“We created our own registration process that kept it simple," Antensaye said. "It took out all of the complications that we saw on the state level. Even as someone who is very fluent in English I even had trouble figuring out how to make it all work. So we have our own registration process, our own scheduling process and people staff to case manage through that whole thing. And thanks to the city we’re given a lot of technical and personnel support there. And then at these clinics the goal is to be the least clinical clinic, the least medical medical experience anyone’s ever had so that they can disassociate from other negative experiences they’ve had and past harms that have been done on the BIPOC community. And then someone to follow up after. So afterwards they’re supported and we can answer any questions.”

OKAY!! OKAY!! Marketing and Creative founder Luis Calderin says people feel comfortable because the clinics are done in collaboration with a number of BIPOC-led and focused organizations. 

“They’re also there to help greet their friends, family and neighbors," Calderin said. "And I would also say that in the process of signing up we removed a lot of unnecessary questions. Not only because of bloated bureaucracy that might keep people out of it but for a sense of safety.  You know we understand that there might be concerns that are not our concerns.  Our concerns are getting shots in Vermonters’ arms, in Burlingtonian’s arms. We just need the bare minimum to be able to get you in and through as quickly and safely as possible. So I think all of that has lent to a very fluid, warm and honestly fun experience for a lot of people.”

While the initiative was launched to promote pandemic vaccinations, Calderin says the Vermont Health Equity Initiative’s goal is to create and implement a long-term vision for BIPOC health equity. 

“When we recognized that we need to create a hub for the BIPOC vaccine clinics we were in a sort of rapid response mode," Calderin said. "But we saw that this would eventually end and health inequities had always been there. And until and unless we consciously make an effort with community partners, the city, the state, federally to change these inequities they’re going to continue to happen. So that’s why we rolled this up under the umbrella of Vermont Health Equity Initiative.”

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