Vaccination race enlists grassroots aides to fight mistrust

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Herman Simmons, left, makes a vaccination appointment for Theopulis Polk, right, at a Chicago laundromat on Saturday, March6, 2021. Simmons is a community outreach worker enlisted by Saint Anthony Hospital. I see myself as my brothers keeper. I dont try to force them. Im persistent, he said. In a race to boost vaccination rates as COVID-19 variants spread, U.S. communities are working to overcome mistrust and improve access among people of color. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford)

CHICAGO – His last job was selling cars, but in his new gig, working to turn the tide against a pandemic, Herman Simmons knows not to be too pushy or overbearing.

He’s one of more than 50 outreach workers a Chicago hospital has enlisted to promote vaccination against COVID-19 in hard-hit Black and brown neighborhoods.

Their job is approaching strangers at laundromats, grocery stores and churches, handing out educational material and making vaccination appointments for those who are willing.

“I see myself as my brother’s keeper. I don’t try to force them. I’m persistent,’’ he said.

Top U.S. health officials say they’re in a race to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible as COVID-19 variants spread, mask and distancing rules are relaxed, and Americans crave a return to normalcy.

As part of these efforts, the Biden administration announced Thursday it will invest nearly $10 billion to expand vaccine access in communities of color, rural areas, low-income populations and other underserved communities. Some of the money will go to community health centers. Funding comes mostly from the American Rescue Plan.

While the U.S. is vaccinating roughly 2.5 million people daily and nearly 1 in 3 adults have received at least one shot, roughly that many say they are skeptical or won’t get vaccinated.

“There will be a hard core that never want to be vaccinated and we can’t do anything about that,’’ said Dr. Eric Toner, a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.