Northeast Minneapolis vax clinic opens with focus on immigrant community outreach

With the cold weather pushing some Minnesotans indoors, and with Thanksgiving less than two weeks away, Guy Zorobi is pretty busy these days.

He helps run ‘La Communaute Ivoire de Minnesota’ — or ‘Ivory Community of Minnesota’ — an advocacy group for Minnesotans with connections to Ivory Coast.

“The pandemic has been devastating for a lot of people,” he says. “Especially for the immigrant community.”

So the group, also known as ‘CIM-USA’ stepped up Saturday, setting up a COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Northeast Minneapolis.

"From my perspective here, I don’t know why I shouldn’t get it,” declares Jonas Douhore, who was born in Ivory Coast, but has called the United States home for the past 29 years. “When you see the president and other big shots start taking the COVID vaccine, you’re telling yourself, what do I have to lose?”

This was the third clinic organized by CIM-USA.

The group says so far, about one-hundred people have been vaccinated, including Michael Apland, who got a booster Saturday.

“Working in a pediatric clinic, you want to keep yourself vaccinated,” he says. “It’s nothing but good, really. I mean, this is how society should be run, right? Taking care of each other and making sure the general health is cared for.”

Zorobi is hoping to connect with the immigrant community, especially people with connections to Ivory Coast — which he estimates at about 1000 across Minnesota.

He says he’s been able to register about five-hundred people with CIM-USA.

"We want to support immigrants, we want to educate them, we want to give them the right information from the get-go,” Zorobi says. “For the immigrant community, it’s harder because there are a lot of community members from the Ivory Coast who don’t speak English, so there’s a language barrier. And too many people are getting the wrong information about the vaccine."

The clinic opened Saturday, as Minnesota’s average positivity rate is 9.5%, the highest since last December.

That means an average of 9.5% of COVID tests is coming back positive.

The Minnesota Department of Health says the state also has serious issues with hospital capacity.

Health officials say due to a combination of COVID and non-COVID-related cases, just 3% of ICU beds are open statewide.

"People don’t really trust the vaccine yet. So that’s the biggest problem,” Zorobi declares.

He says there is some vaccine reluctance among the Ivory Coast community.

"I think culturally we have to understand how we approach the issue,” he says. “And religiously we get in touch with faith leaders to understand their perspective and how they can help us."

Meanwhile, the health department says about 25,000 Minnesota children, aged 5-11, have gotten their first COVID vaccination.

That’s about 5% of kids in that age group.

“That’s why we’re doing this clinic (Sunday) — to help get more kids vaccinated before we get into the busy holiday season,” notes Adriene Thornton, an infection preventionist with Children’s Minnesota.

Health authorities rolled out the COVID-19 vaccine for children in the state about two weeks ago.

Thornton says Children’s Minnesota is hoping to reach out to the community as well.

“We’re in a prime location to serve our Black and Brown and American Indian neighbors, and help them get past some of the health inequities that they have experienced with the rollout of the vaccine for adults,” she explains.

Thornton says parents who have questions about the vaccine should talk with a trusted health professional.

“Just to remind them that the vaccine is safe, it’s effective, the studies are good,” she says. “We are seeing high vaccine efficacy in the trials of about 90% of the kids. They tend to have a stronger immune system.”

The Minnesota Children’s clinic will be held from 12-5 p.m. Sunday at the Chicago Avenue South location in Minneapolis.

You can find information about that clinic here.

At the CIM-USA clinic, Zorobi says his organization is trying to do more than just provide access to the COVID vaccine.

Another clinic is scheduled for December 4th, at the SEIU Local 26 offices on 18th Avenue in Minneapolis.

“So our job is to educate people, to let them know the vaccine is safe, that they can get the vaccine,” Zorobi says. “I worked with a couple of co-workers that passed away in front of me due to COVID. So I don’t want this to happen to everyone. Every one of us kind of lost loved ones, and we want to prevent that for each family.”