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Community groups push to ensure everyone has access to vaccines

Posted at 3:38 PM, Mar 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-19 20:00:59-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Volunteers with the Utah Muslim Civic League spread out across the parking lot at the Utah Refugee Center, directing people where to go to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Kabirou Soufianou was in and out of the clinic in just a few minutes.

"My community sent me a text. I didn’t think I could get a shot," Soufianou said in an interview Friday with FOX 13 as he waited in his car to make sure he had no adverse reaction to the vaccine. "They sent me a text, you can come today at two o’clock. That easy."

Young women with tablets walked around, helpfully scheduling appointments for second doses.

"We have a team who calls them, schedules them, makes it easy," said Luna Banuri, the executive director of the Utah Muslim Civic League. "They come in, they see familiar faces, their trust gets reinforced. We still have a long way to go. Our community does have a lot of, let's say angst against vaccination."

The league has been spearheading an effort to make sure members of Utah's Muslim community do not fall through the cracks when it comes to COVID-19 vaccine distribution. Many members do not watch news or read flyers, even if they are printed in native languages, Banuri said.

"We serve every mosque, every organization and have been able to build a network they trust," she told FOX 13.

Their efforts help to overcome a lot of fears and reluctance to get the vaccine. They can also dispel myths and rumors.

The state of Utah and local health departments are working with groups like the Utah Muslim Civic League to make sure vaccine distribution is equitable.

"Just because a vaccine is available and you're eligible for a vaccine, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s accessible to someone," said Lt. Governor Deidre Henderson, who is overseeing COVID-19 vaccine distribution efforts and has been pushing a vaccine equity plan.

"There are places that are hard to reach. There are communities that maybe have a language barrier or have some sort of cultural or religious barrier that we need to focus on."

Lt. Gov. Henderson said some local health departments have conducted mobile vaccine clinics at job sites and neighborhoods heavily populated with Latino community members.

Communities where there is a language or technology barrier have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. Word of mouth through a grassroots group or community leader can often go further than traditional efforts to get health information out, said Gabriel Moreno, a spokesman for the Salt Lake County Health Department.

"We know that these communities historically have been under-served and, for very good reasons, they have distrust with government agencies," he said. "So that’s why it is so important for us to work with those partner organizations that are trusted voices, that can help us amplify that message, and let them know the vaccine is safe, it works and it is available for them."

Utah's Muslim community crosses a number of racial and ethnic demographics, Banuri pointed out.

"Muslim identity is not a monolith," she said.

The Utah Muslim Civic League is hosting a number of vaccine clinics with the Salt Lake County Health Department, including some inside local mosques. For some who obtained their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Friday, it was helpful.

"It’s much easier, because they’re sending out the texts via the mosque saying 'This when it’s opening up," said Princess P.

Soufianou said it was painless.

"Way easy," he said. "I didn’t even feel I got shot."