APS receives grant to increase vaccine confidence in community

Martha Mendez, left, and Hanan Sebbahi give out COVID-19 tests and information, Dec. 14 at Aurora Central high School, during a food and blanket drive hosted by Aurora Interfaith Community Services.
Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

AURORA | Parents lined up Wednesday morning along Aurora Central High School’s east parking lot to receive free groceries and other staples at the school’s fall market, part of a series of drives at APS schools in partnership with Aurora Interfaith Community Services.

To the side of carts of produce, the Tri-County Health Department had a booth where employees were distributing free COVID-19 tests and an information sheet about vaccines for kids. Before 10 a.m., all the tests had been taken. 

Since the pandemic began, the department has been working with APS to make sure community members have accurate information about the COVID-19 vaccine and know where they can get tested or vaccinated. That work has been strengthened this semester with a grant the district received from the Institute for Educational Leadership in partnership with Kaiser Permanente and the National Association of School Nurses.

The grant is from the institute’s Champions for School Health Vaccination Challenge and focuses on increasing COVID-19 vaccine confidence and improving vaccine equity, according to the organization’s website.

B Lewis, a community schools impact manager at APS, said that in 2020 the district realized that there was a lot of misinformation circulating about the vaccine, and decided to partner with Tri-County to make sure it was consistently delivering accurate and reliable information to students and their families.

Over the summer, the district heard about the grant and applied in the hopes of increasing its outreach to the district’s ACTION Zone schools, which have a high population of immigrant and refugee families. 

This semester, Lewis said the district partnered with Tri-County to hold 11 vaccine clinics in the ACTION Zone, where a total of 281 people ended up getting vaccinated, including over 100 people at APS’ back to school kickoff. It also hosted four focus groups for people who speak a primary language other than English, including Spanish, Swahili, Burmese and Nepali.

In the focus groups, healthcare professionals and interpreters had one-on-one conversations with people to answer any questions or concerns they had about the vaccine, Lewis said. In total 87 people participated in the focus groups, and of those 50 were referred to a local clinic after expressing interest in getting vaccinated.

Lewis said the main questions people asked were whether it was still necessary or important to get vaccinated at this point in the pandemic and if the vaccine is safe for children.

“There’s a lot of misinformation out there when it comes to vaccines, especially for kids,” said Jesus Valle, a community outreach worker at Tri-County.

Along with two coworkers, Valle was staffing the booth at Aurora Central, where he spoke to families in English and Spanish.

Valle said the team is more focused on having individual conversations than trying to reach every single person. If they convey accurate information to one family, “that message will spread.”

In total, Lewis said the district will ultimately receive $20,000 to $25,000 from the grant, which it used to print materials and to plug a gap in funding for its family liaisons for special populations department.

“A lot of money went to that gap and to continue their positions,” she said.

Next semester, Lewis said the district will have a partnership with Latino Healthcare to host vaccination clinics in the Action ZONE each month. Though Tri-County is disbanding, she said the district expects to work with many of the same people in the new Adams and Arapahoe health departments. That includes Valle, who will be moving to Arapahoe County Public Health.

“It’s been really nice to consistently work with the same folks and to hear them say they’re still committed to the work and will still be here,” Lewis said.

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