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Denver's vaccine disparity extends beyond COVID shots

There is disparity among which teens are being vaccinated in Denver. Doctors said this is an issue they've seen with other sicknesses.

DENVER — Teenagers are in an age group doctors have been worried about when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We have seen an uptick in COVID patients," said Dr. Reggie Washington with Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children. "Fortunately, most don't need hospitalizations. I think that's because of their immune systems and resilience to of some of the COVID variants. We've also seen the other side of that. We've seen some really sick kids and unfortunately seen a few who've passed away from COVID."

But while COVID does not discriminate, there is a disparity among which teens are being vaccinated in Denver. 

Data shows the highest number of 12 to 17-year-olds who received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine are white teens. That numbers cuts in half for Hispanic and Latino teens, dips to around 40% for Black and Asian Pacific Islander teens and is below 40% for American Indian teens. 

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This is an issue beyond COVID, however. Washington said he's seen these kinds of stats before.

"It actually mimics what we see in normal vaccinations," he said. "Measles, mumps, rubella and those types of vaccination -- there is disparity there as well."

Washington said the issues are the same no matter which sickness you are talking about -- not understanding the scientific process, bad information, language barriers and a lack of diversity among health care workers. 

"If you don't have a medical home where you feel safe, feel like they trust you and are in tune with individual needs and your culture -- if you don't have all of that, you're not likely to access the health care system unless you are really sick," he said.

Maria Gonzalez is the founder of Adelante Community Development. She's been helping run vaccine clinics at flea markets for months and said meeting families where they were spending their day anyway has been successful.

"The community we serve, a majority don't have access to health insurance and don't have a regular doctor," Gonzalez said.

"The younger generation getting the vaccines are happy and encouraging. Some of them even convincing their fathers to get vaccinated themselves."

Gonzalez said they've given a total of 10,000 shots since February and are looking for more opportunities to meet families out in the community, including at schools and even during soccer games.

"Kids believe in science and are a lot more open," she added. 

The city of Denver also said they are working to vaccinate more eligible students and families in Denver Public Schools (DPS) through a city-sponsored immunization program. The city said they've worked on similar projects before by partnering with Denver Public Health and DPS to provide free vaccines for measles, pertussis and the flu. 

The city said mobile outreach teams will visit schools across the district to offer COVID-19 vaccinations to those who are eligible. 

The Denver Department of Public Health and Environment offered some context to the data. They said their numbers came from the census and vaccination records from the Colorado Immunization Information System (CIIS). 

The city said some of the estimates may seem slightly off for a few reasons including: 

    The census data for population generally gives a pretty accurate number, but when dealing with subsets, that number may be slightly off because the Census is not a perfect count 

•    We are counting the vaccinated individuals through CIIS, and individuals self-report their address on records 

•    When you have an estimate of population (denominator) and are using a different source for vaccination record counts (numerator) you won't always get a result that is perfectly accurate. 

A city spokesperson said while the data isn't perfect,  they are confident that it gives the city a good big picture of vaccination rates across different age brackets and race and ethnicity.

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