The news that the Omicron wave has passed its peak in Chicago has offered a faint light at the end of the tunnel as the world enters its third year of the COVID-19 pandemic. But public health advocates are warning the city’s residents not to let their guards down yet.
“The most powerful challenge right now in vaccinating our Black and brown communities is accessibility,” says Dr. Geraldine Luna, medical director at the Chicago Department of Public Health. Luna says issues of accessibility and misinformation feeding into vaccine hesitancy have compounded to create systemic and psychological barriers to adequate prevention and care.
Allergist and immunologist Dr. Juanita Mora attributes the fears regarding the vaccine that she hears in her practice — in particular, fears regarding effects on fertility — to the preponderance of misinformation.
“How I combat it is, really, mRNA vaccines have been around for 25 years and there are studies with other viruses looking at long-term effects, which there have not been, and no actual problems with fertility in actual little girls or little boys,” Dr. Mora said. “But it’s a lot of misinformation in social media that we need to combat with a lot of truth and a lot of good sources of information.”
Lucy Flores, director of community engagement at Esperanza Health Centers, says that when it comes to raising the rates of vaccination among children, more partnerships between Chicago Public Schools and health care providers could help.
“I think that there are really great opportunities to work with CPS and community-based health centers to facilitate access to vaccines and to work with some of the parent groups, work with CPS staff and engage our community members from every angle in order to connect them to community based health centers in their areas and create hubs where parents can access vaccines,” Flores said. “At Esperanza, we definitely are currently able to vaccinate individuals with same day appointments and also obviously try to coordinate with families so that it works with their schedules.”
Looking ahead to the next few weeks, Dr. Luna offers some familiar advice to keep the positive news coming.
“We’re very optimistic but cautiously optimistic — and making sure that … hospital systems are not saturated or strained because the capacity is still somewhat limited,” Dr. Luna said. “Let’s [get] our community vaccinated. Let’s see if we can stop the mutations of this virus at this point and take advantage that we’re moving out of the surge and looking more to those numbers and more control of the disease to bring back our livelihood.”