Minority and low-income communities missing out on COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Oklahoma cities

  • State and local health officials say they are working on ways to reach out to minority and lower-income communities when it comes to COVID vaccine distribution.
  • FOX23 asked the Oklahoma State Department of Health and the Tulsa Health Department about people with difficulties accessing the state’s website or multiple vaccine distribution points because they don’t have the means to travel or even understand what they’re looking at the state’s vaccine web portal.
  • OSDH said it is working on a Spanish version of the vaccine portal that will debut in a week or two, and the desire to just get the ball rolling on vaccinating people is what was behind English being the only language available at first.
  • THD said it understands there are people who do not have the means to travel to its distribution site at the Tulsa Fairgrounds, and those who qualify for the vaccines who primarily speak Spanish, Zomi, and Burmese may not understand any vaccine information out there at all.
  • THD Director Dr. Bruce Dart said THD will have to partner with churches in minority communities and hold vaccine clinics with them because many minority and low-income communities are very religious and the church is the best way they access what’s going on in the community and information that impacts their lives.
  • This story is a FOX23 Tulsa Gets Real story. When FOX23 labels a story as part of our Tulsa Gets Real coverage, viewers should realize that FOX23 is committed to carrying out coverage of news that matters on topics that can often be difficult to talk about but easy to ignore. This is a way of shining a light on real problems in the community that need addressing.

TULSA, Okla. — State and local health leaders feel minority and low-income communities have largely been ignored in the roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine in Oklahoma.

FOX23 asked leaders at the Oklahoma State Department of Health and the Tulsa Health Department about efforts to get minority and low-income communities access to the vaccine, and we were told they acknowledge that the website is only in English and some do not have the means to travel to a distribution site.

“It’s something we are looking at because we know those people are falling behind,” said THD Director Dr. Bruce Dart about Tulsa’s Black and Latino communities not being located near the current Tulsa County vaccine distribution site.

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Dart said THD wants people in those communities and those who don’t have the means to travel far from their homes to have access to the vaccine because COVID-19 is impacting that part of the population the most because of a lack of access to health care and regular medical services outside of an urgent care clinic. The lack of health care problem is only compounded by the lack of access to the vaccine that can help them.

“We know many of these communities are very religious, and so we are looking at partnering with churches as not just distribution points, but also places where we can education people about the vaccine,” Dart said.

“We know in these communities there is heavy skepticism about the vaccine, and some don’t understand how the vaccine works at all,” he said.

Dart said currently on the table is a mix of community meetings and vaccine clinics at Tulsa area churches that have heavy minority populations and are in low-income areas of north and east Tulsa. In order to reach even more people who may not be connected to a local church, THD is preparing to roll out its caring vans to set up mobile clinics when there is enough vaccine to do so.

On the state level, the primary problem has been the vaccine portal website. When it rolled out, it was and currently remains only in the English language and no alternative options.

“We needed to get people signed up and get the vaccine out as soon as we could, and so we just decided that we’d work on other languages a bit later, but that was a few weeks ago,” Oklahoma Deputy Health Commissioner Keith Reed said.

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Reed said OSDH is working on getting a Spanish version of the website available and understands many primarily Spanish speakers have been calling into 211 for registration because they don’t understand what they’re looking at when they log on.

He said a Spanish version should roll out in the next week or two if everything goes according to plan.

In Tulsa, there is the additional problem of there being a large group of people who speak Burmese or Zomi, and THD said they will have to take a similar approach to them as they will Black and Latino community members when it comes to information presentation and actual vaccine distribution.