Since February, I have been working alongside our members, member leaders, and volunteers to ensure greater access to the COVID-19 vaccine in Pueblo County. Our work is focused in the communities that many people call “hard-to-reach,” but we know it’s not our fault the state’s distribution system doesn’t reach us—it’s theirs. Their system was never designed to reach us, let alone meet our health and health care needs.
As soon as the vaccine became available here in Colorado, we hit the ground running and began registering folks to be vaccinated. We are not a clinic operation, so delivery of vaccines was not our work. Instead, we planted ourselves in the in-between spaces, bridging the gap between where vaccines were being offered and accompanying our friends and neighbors as they navigated multiple processes to get their questions answered, understand the vaccine’s efficacy, anticipate side effects, and get their shots.
Our team, a group of women from immigrant and mixed status families, are the perfect people to work in these in-between spaces where mixed messages, failed leadership, and historic neglect have left folks more isolated, angry, and confused about how best to protect themselves and their families. The caracoles (our version of promotores), are very familiar with making a life in the in-between spaces—no somos de aqui ni de alla. We don’t always experience the sense of belonging to the mainstream community and we’re well-versed in workarounds and getting resourceful in a pinch.
Our registration role in vaccine equity efforts allows us to go to where people already are. We show up at front doors, in stores where people shop, their churches, restaurants they frequent, and we’ll even wander into the fields where many of our neighbors are planting our food. We’re able to have conversations away from where vaccines are being offered and get to the fears that are barriers to getting vaccinated. We don’t just speak their language, we live the same experiences.
Our neighbors also live in these in-between spaces—race, language, literacy, complicated visa and immigration policies, and many fears keep us separated. While the vast majority of folks we work with believe they should be vaccinated and are even eager to be vaccinated, our work is often to convince them that they have the right to be vaccinated, that they will be welcomed where vaccines are administered, that there will be no fees and no immigration consequences to getting vaccinated. Access, not hesitancy, remains the primary issue, and barriers persist.
We have made room for everyone who wants to serve their community to serve with dignity. Together, with the caracol member leaders, we have registered and accompanied 889 people in the month of May alone. We have had over 3,000 conversations and sent over 1,500 people to get vaccinated at different vaccine sites in Pueblo. This is what love for and support of our community looks like. I hope people see the valuable work our caracoles are doing, and I hope the women leading this effort will continue to step into their power. Too many times we are left out of vital services, but not this time. This time we can support our community to have access to life saving care.
We’ve listened to countless stories about loved ones lost to this virus and we’ve all been touched by deep loss in this pandemic. Every move toward vaccine equity is building power for a community too often left in the shadows. We will continue to work in these in-between spaces; we’re like the flowers that rise up from the cracks in the sidewalk. ¡Adelante! Onward!