By Alan Gionet

EVANS, Colo. (CBS4) – At Sunrise Community Health in Evans, just across the line from Greeley, people wait for care. Noemi Torres Herrera, 72, said she’d heard about the vaccine for COVID-19, but didn’t know how to get it.

Case manager Ernesto Castro, still feeling shortness of breath from his own bout with COVID-19 in March, talks on the phone with people.

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“I’ll start pushing the subject about the vaccinations.”

(credit: CBS)

Getting the word out about vaccinations in the Latino community, which makes up a great percentage of the people, helped at Sunrise and is now part of the job. Across Colorado vaccination rates in underserved communities still lag.

State and local health departments are working to figure out how to get more people to get shots.

“There’s education, there’s communication and there is a language barrier that we need to break, and we need to reach out to our community,” said Castro. Getting the message out however takes work. “A lot people are so afraid.”

Fearful that seeking any government help could put them in a bad light if they are trying to get citizenship, says Castro.

“A lot of our community always think it’s going to reflect negative. Especially those who are trying to get residency, trying to get citizenship, they feel like if they’re asking for the COVID (vaccine) it goes against them.”

(credit: CBS)

The easiest path to begin to get shots to the public, notes Sunrise’s chief clinical officer Dr. Mark Wallace, also former head of the county’s health department, was to go to large hospital systems.

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“Not only do you have a workforce that needs to be protected, but you’ve got the refrigerators that it takes to store the vaccine. You have a direct benefit if we can control admissions to your hospital. So you know we pull in these big health systems… All we have to do is stop and make sure that they’re partnering in ways that we’re not leaving communities out.”

Those large systems have moved into a technological world harder to access for many people in underserved communities.

“So many of the large hospital systems are very familiar with having robust computer systems that are available on smart technology so they use portals to get you registered. One of the things is let’s not say there’s one way to get into this. The other one is where are we giving it.”

Other issues may revolve around the inability to take time off from work to go to vaccination appointments. Wallace hopes sites will be available when people can get time. He sees resistance among people who may worry about whether the government has been looking out for their best interests after facing high rates of COVID-19 in front line jobs and those considered essential.

“This is seen as coming from the government. ‘Well, did I feel as protected by the government when I had my essential job? When I had to work in a place where, was I getting protective equipment, was I getting a mask?’”

(credit: CBS)

Communication remains a big barrier he believes. Many times in families information comes in to the younger family members and that could be a conduit.

“Getting it into the youth, running it up the chain to the senior members of the family and then sort of coming back down through that.”

Much in the way Ernesto Castro talked to his own family. He and his father both ended up in the hospital last year due to their infections.

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“They said, ‘what are your thoughts on it?’ I said, ‘Dad, mom, after everything that we went through, let’s look into this.’ My dad just generally looked at me and said ‘you’re right.’”

Alan Gionet