Columbus’ Somali leaders push for better access to COVID-19 vaccine

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Columbus leaders are hoping to promote access to the COVID-19 vaccine by bringing clinics directly to at-risk communities.

“This is a deadly disease killing the people. So, the only way they can fight this is to get the vaccination,” said Hassan Omar, the director of the Somali Community Association.

Thursday, the organization was teaming up with Columbus Public Health to bring a focused vaccination clinic to a community center on the northeast side of the city. It’s located in an area where many Somali Americans live.

“There’s a lot of barriers community members face, especially the older ones. They don’t have transportation; they don’t know how to make an appointment and stuff like that. So, this was kind of like a centralized spot,” said community organizer Mohammed Ali.

Ali explained he grew concerned watching COVID-19 cases and deaths rise within the closely-knit Somali American community. He and other leaders have worked to spread accurate information about the virus, safety measures and the importance of the vaccine. Volunteers have been helping translate resources, coordinate healthcare services and book vaccination appointments.

“People are realizing that it’s very, very important for people to have the vaccination,” said Omar, who was vaccinated himself to set an example for others.

The Somali Community Association has been focused on sharing information about the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness. Leaders reached out to Columbus Public Health to request special vaccination clinics in neighborhoods with large Somali American populations.

Thursday’s event was the second clinic directly aimed to reach the Somali population. Both offered 200 appointments and slots quickly filled, with more signed up on a waiting list.

The clinics include multilingual signs and translators.

“I’m glad we get the clarification, I’m glad we got the interpreters that say exactly what we need to understand,” said Hassan Ahmed, who was receiving the vaccine Thursday.

Through an interpreter he told NBC4 the previous year has been devastating.

“[I] lost a lot of family members, the community lost families, lost a lot of jobs, couldn’t work, [we’ve been] stuck at the house. It has been a hard year,” Ahmed said.

As Ohio’s vaccine eligibility expands, Columbus Public Health is ramping up its efforts to vaccinate underserved communities. In addition to the Somali focused event on Thursday, it’s hosted several mobile clinics in congregate settings. The department plans to continue outreach in low-income neighborhoods and provide resources to those with language barriers.

Ahmed explained the outreach from trusted community members encouraged him to get vaccinated. He said he’s now trying to promote the importance of the shot in his own circles so they can return to life as it was before the health crisis.

“[I look forward to] getting together with family and friends,” he said. Everybody can go back to work and just not have to worry about ‘you can do this, you can’t do this…’ Just be free again.”

For more information about the Columbus Public Health COVID-19 vaccine program, click on this link.

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