Leaders in South L.A. say they need to fight vaccine distrust in communities of color

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- The COVID-19 vaccine is the light at the end of the tunnel for this pandemic. But there are many people who don't trust the vaccine.

In a show of unity, local community leaders are committing to building trust with the people in South Los Angeles.

Like so many, behavior therapist Elvis DeJesus was weary of the new COVID-19 vaccines.

"I was a little bit hesitant," he said.

But since he works with special needs students, he came to St. John's Well Child and Family Center to get his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

"We are now vaccinating 600 healthcare workers a day and we are prepared to vaccinate hundreds of thousands of people in South L.A.," said Jim Mangia, president and CEO of St. John's Well Child & Family Center.

Mangia said the virus has ravaged the families of essential workers who live in the areas he serves.

"From the beginning of this pandemic," he said, "St. John's had to fight to get tests, to get treatment and to get vaccines."

But the greatest challenge may still lie ahead.

"The issue of vaccine hesitancy in Black and brown communities is real," said Areva Martin, president & co-founder of Special Needs Network.

"We know the history of health disparities in this country," she said. "We know the reluctance that people of color rightfully have when it comes to trusting the medical community."

Recent polls reveal only 14% of Black Americans and 34% of Latinx Americans say they have trust in the safety of new COVID-19 vaccines. Community leaders say the most effective way to convince vulnerable populations to get vaccinated is to provide factual and timely information.

"Educating ourselves and educating each other is important so that we can with confidence make a choice," said April Verrett, president of SEIU 2015.

This week, St. John's has been testing up to 1,000 people per day with an average positive rate of 35%. It's a harsh reality, home health care worker Karen Crawford hopes people will take to heart.

"You really need to consider taking it because it's for the community. It's not just an individual thing. It's a community thing," she said.

Joe Biden to speed release of COVID-19 vaccines upon taking office
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President-elect Joe Biden on Dec. 8 promised to distribute a coronavirus vaccine to 100 million people during the first three months of his incoming administration, pledging "100 million shots in the first 100 days." He also pledged to promote masking and get kids back to school.

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