FEDERAL WAY, Wash. — More than 100 Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander elders living in western Washington received their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic put on in partnership with the Pacific Islander Community Association (PICA) and Swedish.
“I think there is going to be between 140 and 150 people today that are vaccinated for their second dose,” said Margo Bykonen, regional chief nursing officer at Swedish.
Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders have a four times higher case rate, 10 times higher hospitalization rate and six times higher death rate of COVID-19 than white populations and other marginalized groups.
The COVID-19 disparity has been hardest on the community’s treasured elders.
“Auntie Vaesiu is very grateful of today that she was able to see herself being safe,” said Sina Packer. She stood in line outside the PICA building in Federal Way with her aunt and mom, ushering them through the process of getting their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“They feel important. They feel, them as underserved seniors, they were able to know that they are recognized,” Packer said.
She translated, filled out paperwork and stood by their side as the women received their second dose.
Packer explained the grief brought on by the pandemic and how the vaccine brings hope.
“Five hundred ten people died from COVID; that’s an impact on our community," she said. "So, we’re having the COVID vaccine. It gives them hope that it’s not going to repeat what they went through before the vaccine.”
The clinic comes after months of PICA fighting for recognition from the state about the impacts of COVID-19 on the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander community.
Swedish is one of several health care partners around the state that stepped up to partner with PICA in getting vaccines to the community’s elders.
“We worked with King County Public Health around the COVID numbers primarily and said what areas, what regions, what communities are hardest hit by this pandemic? And actually targeted zip codes, community leaders to say, 'How do we set up these mobile units and bring our vaccine programs to those communities?’” said Bykonen.
Packer said she doesn’t think she would have been able to find doses for her family without the clinic.
“If there was no group, we wouldn’t be recognized. If there was no community, we would not be recognized, our voice would not be heard. It takes a very strong organization like PICA to speak up and go beyond our level to get where we’re at. I think that’s very important.”
This is just one of the clinics PICA has planned.
There is another one in Clark County this week, one in Spokane and one in Snohomish County planned for next week.