SIOUX FALLS, S.D (KELO) — South Dakota is bragging about a milestone with the COVID-19 vaccination now that over half of the population has received at least one dose. But the majority of those who have begun the vaccination process are white and live in the more populated areas of the state.
While anyone 16 and up is now eligible for a vaccine in South Dakota, not everyone is getting the message.
“Working class folks, poor folks, migrant and refugee; undocumented workers–are most likely not to get access to the vaccine, primarily because they don’t go to the doctor,” Dave Bushaw of United Together, Stronger Tomorrow said.
The advocacy group, United Today, Stronger Tomorrow is circulating an online petition that calls on South Dakota state leaders to ensure COVID-19 vaccine access for all who are eligible, regardless of mobility, citizenship status, employment, income level, language proficiency, sexual or gender identity, location, class, race, and ethnicity.
KELOLAND Investigates looked into the South Dakota Department of Health data on vaccinations and it shows that 86.3-percent of those who have received at least one vaccine are white.
The state’s data shows that fewer than one percent are Asian, Black or Hispanic.
SDSU Professor Maristela Rovai is Latino and bilingual. Her work with the Hispanic dairy community as an SDSU Extension Dairy Specialist now includes trying to get more dairy workers vaccinated.
“It’s really important to explain the why. What is public health? Am I obliged to the get the vaccine? Am I forced to do that? Why is that important?” Rovai said.
Rovai is working in partnership with the Brookings Health system and others to hold vaccine clinics for Hispanic workers, but getting them to the clinic means overcoming several barriers..
“The problem is language barrier is number one. Then you have for example, you are going to sign up for the vaccine appointment; you need to go online. Most of them don’t have computers,” Rovai said.
Add to that the issues of 12 hour work shifts and misinformation they may be getting from their own countries of origin about the vaccines.
“They say some people get a vaccine and they die. They don’t have much information and also they get confused with some things going on on in their countries,” Filipe Huerta said.
Hill Top Dairy worker, Felipe Huerta, heard all the horror stories from his coworkers, but decided to go to one of the vaccine clinics set up by Rovai anyway.
“I think you’ve got to get ready for the future, I guess. If something else comes — something stronger, so your body knows to get the system ready for whatever is coming up,” Heurta said.
11 out of 20 of Hill Top Diary’s Hispanic workers got the vaccine, in part due to encouragement from the man who runs the dairy, Wilfried Reuvekamp. He also wanted to set an example by getting the vaccine along with them.
“I hope they make that decision. Go for your vaccination. We need to do it together. We need to cancel–or tackle–this disease together,” Reuvekamp said.
Kennecke: How big of an issue is trust in all of this?
Rovai: That encouragement from the producer is really important and when we go there and talk in their language they feel pleased just to ask.
While producer encouragement helps in the dairy industry, there are still thousands of other people who may not get a vaccine because they simply aren’t able to sign up.
“In just Sioux Falls, there are over 9,000 households that don’t have stable access to internet connections; meaning they can’t schedule online vaccinations and they can’t look up information in regards to vaccination eligibility,” Dave Bushaw said.
“There are a lot of different reasons why people may not be vaccinated just yet. But we’re going to keep working on that until we really give people a second and third and fourth chances to make that choice,” South Dakota Secretary of Health, Kim Malsam-Rysdon, said.
United Today, Stronger Tomorrow is calling for the South Dakota Department of Health to create a vaccine equity task force. The DOH says it’s already doing community outreach and working with employers to get more people vaccinated.
“Addressing those types of issues is part of the work we’re doing, again with our partners across the state. We’ve made information about vaccines available in multiple different languages. We also have an 800 number that people can call if they need help understanding how to make an appointment,” Malsam-Rysdon said.
The number to call is 1-800-997-2880. You can also call the Helpline at 2-1-1 to schedule a Lyft ride to your vaccine appointment in South Dakota’s major cities. South Dakota is also applying for more funding to make vaccines more available to everyone through the CDC’s $2.25 billion dollar “Initiative to Address COVID-19 Health Disparities.”