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Hmong community vaccination clinic opens after concerns over vaccine inequity

The Hmong Medical Association is partnering with the Phalen Family Pharmacy to deliver 200 vaccine shots a week to eligible people in the community.

SAINT PAUL, Minn. — More white people have been vaccinated than any other race according to the most recent vaccine information from the Minnesota Department of Health. Vaccine equity is why concerned frontline workers from the Hmong community are trying to be aggressive in getting shots into the arms of its seniors.

"We are giving 200 vaccines a week," said Doctor Umeng David Thao. He's the president of the Hmong Medical Association, or HMA. They teamed up with Phalen Family Pharmacy in St. Paul.

It’s one of the 20 small pharmacies MDH is granting doses of vaccines to through a pilot program aimed to serve communities of color.  MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm said it needed to expand to more community pharmacies like Phalen Family. 

"What we’re doing to follow up on that idea is there are some pilots going on right now with the Federal Equality Qualified Health Centers and the community pharmacies that are located in particular geographies that are in high social vulnerable, vulnerability index areas," Malcolm said.  She said for pharmacies and clinics located in some of those geographic areas that we know are serving some of the populations that have been the hardest hit by this pandemic, they have the flexibility to vaccinate at a younger age and people with some of these underlying conditions.  

"So that’s kind of how we’re approaching it," Malcolm said.  "As the governor said, trusting the providers who are located in these certain communities, giving them more flexibility," she said.

The move was welcome, because HMA members said they have heard of the need from the community.

"A lot of our physicians and healthcare providers would have Hmong who are 65 years and older and they’re major complaint is that 'I can’t get the vaccine, I can’t even access it,'" Dr. Thao said.

Language and technology barriers are the top reasons according to Dr. Thao. That leads to MDH data that shows white people make up about 82% of the state's population, but about 91% have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

In comparison, those who identify as Black or African American make up 6of the % population but 3.5% are vaccinated.

While Dr. Thao said they need more specific information to educate the Hmong community, those who identify as Asian or Pacific Islander make up 5% of the state’s population but only 3% are vaccinated.

"Because of those issues that’s when Hmong Medical Association decided OK, we have to sort of bring the vaccine to the community," Dr. Thao said.

The first clinic at Phalen Family Pharmacy was Saturday, March 6. Dr. Thao said 200 people signed up and all the shots were given by 46 volunteers. 200 people is the goal every week right now for those 65 and older, Dr. Thao said.  Dr. Thao also said the shots aren’t limited to just older Hmong people. He said they’re looking at other southeast Asian refugee communities.

It’s important to note, you will need to make an appointment to get a vaccine. You can do that by calling Phalen Family Pharmacy at (651) 209-9000 or reaching out to the HMA.