The Sansum Diabetes Research Institute is preparing to administer the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to about 100 Hispanic and Latino individuals with diabetes this morning, targeting one of the most at-risk groups in the pandemic.
When the SDRI received 100 doses of the vaccine in January, it set its sights on vaccinating Hispanic and Latino individuals over the age of 75 living with type 2 diabetes. The pandemic has disproportionately affected Hispanic and Latino individuals and poses a very serious threat to those who are elderly and living with diabetes, Dr. David Kerr, SDRI’s director of research and innovation, told the News-Press.
“From our point of view, it is an absolute necessity to get this population vaccinated as soon as possible,” Dr. Kerr said.
The rollout of the first 100 vaccine doses occurred in a matter of days, despite heavy rains at the end of January playing a role in transportation and distribution, SDRI Executive Director Ellen Goodstein told the News-Press. SDRI staff set up a canvas tent to shield elderly patients from the rain, though some still had to trudge multiple blocks from public bus stops to access their vaccine, Ms. Goodstein said.
After months of hearing of the pandemic’s disproportionate effect on the Latino community, Ms. Goodstein said seeing patients get the vaccine made her “heart swell.”
“We all feel so powerless with this virus, so to be able to protect people with vaccination is a gift,” Ms. Goodstein said.
The pandemic’s disproportionate effect on the Latino community is a multifaceted issue, Dr. Kerr said. A large portion of the Latino population comes from underserved areas where it is harder to social distance, working from home is more difficult and public transportation is a necessity.
In addition, underserved communities are some of the hardest-hit populations for rates of diabetes. Locally, rates of type 2 diabetes are doubled in the Latino community compared to other populations, according to a news release from SDRI.
The factors that contribute to large case rates of diabetes among Latino communities are still unknown, and SDRI is aiming to determine these factors through biological, physiological, behavioral and environmental research. In some cases, higher rates of diabetes can be attributed to environmental factors like a lack of access to healthy foods in underserved areas, Dr. Kerr said.
“A lot of (the diabetes risk) relates to social determinants in health,” Dr. Kerr said. “If you have a risk of diabetes, it’s impacted by your zip code and rates of stress and environmental exposures.”
SDRI hopes to continue serving this population as more vaccine doses become available, though officials are unsure of when the next shipment will be sent. In accordance with public health guidance, the organization is hoping to offer the next round of vaccines to those 65 and up who belong to the Latino community and have type 2 diabetes.
As the COVID-19 threat to the Latino community remains high, Dr. Kerr is hoping a larger number of vaccines can be allocated to those living with diabetes, who are at dramatically increased risk for serious complications or death as a result of the virus.
“We know who the high-risk population is and we know the vaccine is incredibly effective, therefore we need to bring the vaccine to those high-risk people,” Dr. Kerr said.