April is National Minority Health Month, and this year's theme, selected by the Department of Health and Human Services, is "Give Your Community a Boost," reiterating the importance of the Covid-19 vaccines and vaccine boosters.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that racial and ethnic minority groups—particularly Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino and American Indian or Alaskan Natives—are at an increased risk of getting sick with Covid-19, experiencing more severe illness and dying from the virus. Many of them have also not had access to vaccines or have received misinformation discouraging them from getting vaccinated.
In Florida, only 40 percent of Black and 66 percent of Hispanic people are vaccinated against Covid-19. Multicultural Health Institute medical director Dr. Lisa Merritt says it is especially important that these populations become vaccinated because of the higher rates of high blood pressure and diabetes, potential precursors for severe cases of the virus.
"When we look at the health care system now, it has been disrupted by Covid-19," says Merritt. "It's placed a burden on physical offices, creating delays in folks getting appointments and lack of education on their own wellness. It's also made it more difficult for some populations to navigate health insurance and even online platforms to register for Covid vaccines. Some may not have access to computers or proper health coverage."
The Multicultural Health Institute offers programs such as free health screenings, healing circles, connections to food and housing and nutritional and diabetes education.
What can we do to support Sarasota's minority communities during National Minority Health Month? Merritt and the Multicultural Health Institute have a few strategies:
Visit free health screening days.
The Multicultural Health Institute often hosts family-fun days in Newtown and downtown Sarasota. Get free blood pressure and diabetes screenings, masks and Covid-19 tests and learn about nutrition and more. Care navigators from the institute will also be present to help connect you with whatever you need.
Share what you've learned online and in person.
"We have trained laypeople in identifying various medical conditions and knowing where to turn when they need help," says Merritt. "If you share resources online or in person with family and friends, you are helping people get access to sound information.
"We believe if we put this information in people's hands, it's easier on individuals, families and the community. They can find a doctor that's right for them, instead of overwhelming emergency rooms that are not equipped for primary care, and more people can get vaccinated against Covid and relieve stress on the health care system."
To share resources online, visit the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Minority Health website. Post one of their infographics this month with the hashtag #BoostYourCommunity.
Use PEARLS, the Multicultural Health Institute's app.
"[PEARLS] stands for prevention, education, advocacy, research and resources, language and sustainability," says Merritt. "One of our scholars, a student at New College, created the app because they saw the need for people to have easy access to proper information about Covid-19."
Because of the application, vaccination numbers have slowly increased in Sarasota's minority community, according to Merritt.
Attend a National Minority Health Month event.
The Department of Health and Human Services has an online calendar of events you can attend during National Minority Health Month. The virtual and in-person events will cover various topics.
One event, "National Minority Health Month: Covid-19 Vaccines Virtual Conversation," will take place on Thursday, April 28m on Zoom. Attendees can submit questions in advance or ask them live.
Volunteer at local organizations supporting people of color.
You can volunteer at the Multicultural Health Institute handing out school supplies and personal protective equipment. The Manatee NAACP allows volunteers to work with families in accessing quality education and health care opportunities.
Help others when you can.
"One of our scholars, a computer science professor, walked into Publix to get his Covid vaccine and saw an elderly couple struggling with the store's online registration system," says Merritt. "He went to help them out, and even he had difficulty navigating the site. We have to help each other when we can."
Keep directing people to free resources, such as the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County, to receive Covid tests and vaccination.
For more information on National Minority Health Month, click here. The Multicultural Health Institute is located at 1781 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Sarasota. For more information about the Institute, click here.