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How one health center is leading Chicago on kid COVID shots

Giles Bruce, Kaiser Health News on

Published in Health & Fitness

But the Chicago second grader said he was willing to withstand a little discomfort “because I want to protect my family, me, my friends, my teacher.”

On the brisk fall afternoon, families with young kids streamed in and out of the site, a 23,000-square-foot former gym with exposed ventilation, hanging fluorescent lights and a blue-speckled rubber floor. As Disney songs played over the loudspeakers, the children stopped to take pictures in front of astronaut-themed, balloon-covered photo backdrops the health center had set up.

“They do a great job of making information available where people are,” said Benicio’s mom, Esmie De Maria, 39. “They have flyers up at restaurants, laundromats, the grocery store. They’re not expecting people to come to them.”

Esperanza has also done pop-up vaccine clinics at local schools and parks.

De Maria said she didn’t run into waitlists as she had at other places in the city. She even enlisted the health center to teach vaccine workshops to her colleagues at a local neighborhood organization.

Esperanza is a trusted institution in a largely Hispanic part of the city, De Maria said — the health center’s name means “hope” in Spanish. In Chicago and nationwide, Latinos have been less likely than whites and Asians to be immunized against the coronavirus, though that gap has been closing.

“People of color have every right, historically, to be wary of vaccinations,” said De Maria, noting that many women in her ancestral home of Puerto Rico were coerced into being sterilized during the 20th century. “It’s embedded in our DNA to be skeptical.”

 

But she said she hopes everyone will consider getting immunized, for the good of the community. “This isn’t just for him,” she said, gesturing to Benicio.

Over at the vaccine station, Blancas, the medical assistant, told Benicio the shot would feel like a mosquito bite. “You’re being really brave. You’re earning that ice cream,” his mom said.

When Blancas stuck Benicio’s arm with the needle, the boy, holding tight to his Batman teddy bear, let out a quiet “Ow.” Afterward, he said he’d just felt a little pinch.

“You are officially vaccinated,” his mother told him, as he sat playing with her phone in the observation area for 15 minutes to make sure he didn’t have any dangerous allergic reactions. “He’s going to be one of the first kids at his school to get vaccinated. He’s a little superhero.”

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©2021 Kaiser Health News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.