A door-to-door effort is underway in Southwest Detroit’s Latino community to promote the availability of COVID-19 vaccines and let neighborhood residents know where to get them.
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Roughly three months after President Joe Biden’s nationwide vaccine rollout began, Detroit still has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the state: about 33 percent among adults, compared to 55 percent statewide.
“There is no question, we’re in a race right now so that we can get more people vaccinated than are getting infected with COVID,” says Victoria Kovari, executive assistant to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. Kovari is leading the door-to-door efforts at the city level. “We really want to make sure that we’ve left no stone unturned, and there’s a sense of urgency on the part of the City about reaching out to every Detroiter.”
The City of Detroit partnered with the nonprofit Congress of Communities to inform a segment of the population that is still underrepresented in getting the vaccine.
Elizabeth Gonzalez works with Congress of Communities and is an experienced canvasser. She understands the challenges of reaching the Latino community. Gonzalez says there is disinformation to contend with, language barriers and a lack of trust.
Last summer, she worked on getting Latinos to fill out the U.S. census and is now using some of the same tools and strategies to inform people about the vaccine.
“Going door to door is the only way to reach our community,” she says firmly. “It’s the only way.”
Walk a few blocks with Gonzalez, and you will experience the barriers she and her team face. Tall fences, locked gates and especially dogs keep them from getting on porches and making critical face-to-face contact.
At a Victorian house with a big front yard, they’re greeted by 18-year-old Arieles Martinez. She’s friendly, takes the flyer, and thanks Gonzalez for the information. She says she won’t be getting the vaccine. “Honestly, I don’t trust it, and I don’t think I need it,” Martinez says.
Gonzalez doesn’t try to change her mind. She asks Martinez whether she needs groceries or help with gas or electricity, before making her way down the block.
All of the information that is collected goes into a phone or tablet provided by the City.
On the other side of the street, Gonzalez gets lucky. She walks up to Spanish-speaking woman gardening in her front yard. She says she wants to get the Pfizer vaccine but doesn’t know where in the neighborhood to go.
There are currently two walk-in clinics in Southwest Detroit and a Saturday vaccination clinic.
Bilingual skills are essential in this section of Southwest Detroit. After years of working in Council District 6, Congress of Communities is uniquely positioned to reach those who have yet to get the material they need to make an informed decision about the vaccine.
“We really believe in door-knocking,” says Maria Salinas, executive director of Congress of Communities. “I’ve groomed many community organizers because that’s what I am, and that’s what you do; you get out into the community and connect with people.”
In addition to door-knocking, the City of Detroit will create billboards and distribute lawn signs in Spanish.
“We’re going all out for the next few months, giving it our best shot to reach out to every Detroiter, regardless of their language, regardless of their income status, or their digital access,” Kovari says. “We’re employing a whole range of outreach efforts to tackle this problem.”
In a survey on Latino Health Priorities by UNIDOS US, a Latino civil rights organization, 28 percent of Latinos reported that they were unlikely to get vaccinated for COVID-19 once it became available.
For Gonzalez, this is personal. She wants to inform the community, but says that, more than anything, she wants things to get back to normal.
“There were so many festivals and events that got canceled,” Gonzalez said. “Our kids missed out on so much this year.”