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Pending vaccine authorization for 5 to 11-year-olds, doctors work toward more equitable distributions

Here's how some health clinics and systems say they are better prepared to reach younger kids from those communities.

DENVER — Ten months into vaccine rollouts, Coloradans are still not getting vaccinated at equal rates. The same is true for 12 to 17-year-olds from communities of color.

Numbers from Denver Health estimate there are roughly 12,800 white 12 to 17-year-olds in Denver County, yet more than 13,000 kids who identify as white have received at least one dose of a vaccine. Meanwhile, American Indian, Asian/Pacific Islander, Black and Hispanic/Latino teens in Denver are all below the 60% vaccination rate. 

"When vaccinations were expanded to adolescents, we really swung into action in a close partnership with Denver Public Schools (DPS)," said Dr. Bill Burman with Denver Health.

They offered vaccines in schools, at school events, after hours and on weekends to address various barriers. 

"With those efforts, I wish we could say we had completely done away with vaccine disparities. We haven't, but I think they’ve improved," Burman said. 

Five to 11-year-olds are expected to receive approval for COVID-19 shots before the end of the year. Burman said plans are already well underway to partner with DPS schools and bring vaccination clinics to elementary schools. 

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"We quickly learned we could use these as an opportunity to vaccinate the whole family," he said.  

Using school events to reach older adolescents and adults is one way they hope to bridge vaccine gaps across communities. 

Kellie Thompson, a registered nurse at Tepeyac Community Health Center, said the most helpful and successful method in increasing vaccinations among all hesitant individuals is one-on-one conversations. Sometimes, it takes multiple conversations, Thompson said. 

"I think as time goes on, people will see their family member that are vaccinated…and talking about our own personal experience has helped too." 

Parental consent can sometimes become a barrier when it comes to vaccination teens and children. "With 5 to 11-year-olds, we'll have to make sure we make them [the patient] feel comfortable, but also their parents, because they will have to be the one to provide consent for it." 

While kids are at low risk for severe COVID-19 infections, they can still become infected, then spread it to others. 

"Lower risks does not mean no risk," said Burman.

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