Douglas County aims to get refugee community vaccinated

“None of us are protected really, until all of us are protected,” Phil Rooney, Douglas County Health Department
Published: Apr. 5, 2021 at 10:33 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - It’s an all-out effort to try and get the COVID-19 vaccine into the arms of some of the hardest to reach with the Douglas County Health Department launching mobile clinics to help reach refugee communities.

Omaha Kanyaw Baptist Church is hosting a clinic Saturday in hopes of vaccinating hundreds of Omaha’s Karen population.

“When we don’t know how to call for an appointment to schedule the vaccine, like those language barriers and transportation barriers can be a problem in our community,” said Paw Btoo Htoo, with Restoring Dignity, noting something as seemingly simple as taking time off work is a challenge.

”Most of the time we work seven days a week, and we work at meatpacking plants and we don’t have time to go and don’t have time to ask off for work for the vaccine,” Btoo Htoo. “If they are closer to their community they can carpool and when community and churches are involved more people know about it.”

Knowing about the vaccine and trusting it, are two keys the pastor is working on.

“I encourage everyone and everyone at the church to get the shot,” said Pastor, Kwae Ka Baw Lynn.

“Many of them have a real distrust of government,” said Phil Rooney, Douglas County Health Department. “If they’re refugees they came from difficult circumstances and they’re rightly afraid of some things we take for granted.”

While the refugees make up a small percent of the population, health officials say it’s critical they get vaccinated. Not only for their own safety but in the larger fight against this pandemic.

“None of us are protected really until all of us are protected,” said Rooney, noting the goal is to reach that critical herd immunity and keep everyone safe. “We just don’t want to leave anyone out in a pandemic, it just doesn’t work that way. That’s just a recipe for disaster, so we just want to get everyone vaccinated as quickly as we can.”

To help speed things up they’ll be using the one-and-done Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“That’s easier for the community because if we don’t know how to get people for the second time, especially if you don’t speak the language and don’t know how to schedule the second appointment,” said Btoo Htoo.

Saturday’s clinic is just one of several mobile clinics coming up aimed at getting more refugees the vaccine.

Health officials have been working with Restoring Dignity to nail down the best locations, with a handful of clinics set to go directly into apartment complexes.

Correction: The spelling of Karen was corrected. 6 News regrets the error.

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