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Austin, Garfield Park, North Lawndale

As West Side Vaccination Rates Lag, Austin Community Center Hopes To Make Shots More Appealing, Accessible To Residents

The outreach program is funded by a grant to improved vaccination rates among Chicagoans of color. Less than half of Black and Latino residents are vaccinated, data shows.

A vaccination event hosted by the GAP Community Center in Austin
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AUSTIN — A West Side community center is ramping up efforts to vaccinate residents, thanks to a grant that will allow it to target groups lagging behind in getting shots.

The GAP Community Center is using the grant sponsored by the Chicagoland Vaccine Partnership and Health First Collaborative to hire a staff member to do outreach, raise awareness and plan regular vaccination events.

As a faith-based organization, the organization can build the long-term relationships needed to reach pockets of Austin and Belmont Cragin where people have been hesitant to get vaccinated, said Angelina Zayas, CEO of the GAP Community Center.

“It’s relational. People want to know that somebody else got it and they’re okay,” Zayas said. “They want to hear from somebody who looks like them, and somebody who can meet them at their level.”

Angelina Zayas

The center will have at least one mobile vaccination event each month, organized in partnership with other local groups to expand the reach of each pop-up. A vaccination event in August will be hosted in partnership with the 25th Police District.

Details for upcoming vaccination events will be posted to GAP Community Center’s Facebook and Instagram social media pages, Zayas said.

The grant program, which has distributed $1 million to neighborhood groups across the city, emphasizes vaccines in communities of color, which have fallen behind some city rates because of lack of access, hesitancy and misinformation.

RELATED: South Siders In Chicago’s Least-Vaccinated Areas Say Misinformation, Mistrust Behind The Lag. Here’s What They Say Can Help

Less than half of Black and Latino Chicagoans are vaccinated, according to public health department data. In most parts of Belmont Cragin, the vaccination rates are close to the citywide average of 56 percent, city data shows.

But in the 60644 ZIP code, which covers roughly the southern half of Austin, just 38 percent of residents are fully vaccinated. In Austin’s second-largest ZIP code, 60651, under 48 percent of residents are vaccinated.

The grants aim to “empower local leaders to use their knowledge of how their communities work to increase vaccination rates,” said Rachel Reichlin, project lead for the Health First Collaborative.

“These new community mobilization grants re-imagine what public health outreach can look like,” Reichlin said.

The center’s vaccination mobilization coordinator will be running a campaign focused on educating young adults about the vaccine. That age group has been particularly hesitant to get the jab since many think they are not at-risk, Zayas said.

The campaign will use social media trends like the crate box TikTok challenge “to communicate the importance of getting vaccinated using the facts.”

The local outreach strategy at the GAP Community Center is focused on meeting people where they are. Their vaccination pop-ups will build off the health fairs and community resource events they’ve hosted for years. In addition to vaccines, residents will be able to get resources like free food and clothing,

“They see the types of services we provide and they want to participate. They come and see,” Zayas said. “I think it gives us the opportunity to earn the right to speak to people who are in the community and say, ‘We understand your fears. To get vaccinated, this is the best thing for us.'”

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