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Clinics Fight Vaccine Hesitancy in Russian-Speaking Communities

Jun 17, 2021 12:00AM ● By By Gary Zavoral, Sutter Health

Sutter nurse Oksana Yarmola, who is from Ukraine, discusses the COVID-19 vaccine before administering a shot at a local vaccination clinic. A "pop-up" vaccination clinic for Citrus Heights is scheduled from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. June 26. Photo: Sutter Health

Clinics Fight Vaccine Hesitancy in Russian-Speaking Communities [3 Images] Click Any Image To Expand

CITRUS HEIGHTS, CA (MPG) - Registered nurse Oksana Yarmola, who was born in the Russian-speaking country of Ukraine, has administered more than 3,000 COVID-19 vaccinations in the past two months at a large vaccination clinic in Sacramento, but only three were also Slavic.

Considering the Sacramento region is home to about 100,000 Russian-speaking residents, or around 5 percent of the population, she should have given shots to about 150 more.

Yarmola’s experience and concern is evident as “pop up” clinics scheduled to vaccinate residents in Citrus Heights attempt to engage the single most hesitant population for the COVID vaccine: the Russian-speaking community.

Vaccine hesitancy among Hispanic and Black Americans has been well-documented and explored. But, as Sutter Health partners with community organizations bringing the vaccine to underserved neighborhoods, they’re finding other populations that show hesitancy as well, especially among the immigrants who grew up in former Soviet Union countries such as Russia and Ukraine. At two recent vaccination clinics held at a Rancho Cordova church, most of those receiving their vaccinations were Hispanic or African American. Not a single one was from the Russian-speaking community.

These “pop-up clinics” were among dozens being set up by Sutter Health throughout Northern California to help vaccinate underserved communities that may have barriers to access vaccine clinics. Sutter is partnering with community organizations to bring the vaccine clinics to them.

The COVID-19 vaccination “pop-up clinic” for Citrus Heights residents is scheduled from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, June 26, at the Citrus Heights Community Center, 6300 Fountain Square Drive, next to the Sam’s Club. It is for all residents 12 and up, including those in the Russian-speaking neighborhoods, and will be with the Pfizer vaccine. Walk-ins are welcome anytime from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Appointments for the second dose will be scheduled for three to four weeks later.  

This clinic is being co-sponsored by the City of Citrus Heights and Sutter Health, and Vice Mayor Porsche Middleton is championing the effort.

“As Vice Mayor of Citrus Heights, I want to see a healthier community,” Middleton said. “A COVID vaccine clinic is one of the ways we can promote good health and help end this pandemic.”

In addition, because the clinic will be using the Pfizer vaccine, it will provide vaccination access to high school and middle school children 12 and up who may not have been able to receive a vaccination previously.

Government Mistrust Big Part of Culture

Nelya Hryb, family resource manager with the Folsom Cordova Community Partnership, grew up in the Russian-speaking country of Ukraine and has witnessed first-hand the hesitancy the Russian-speaking neighborhoods in Citrus Heights and throughout the Sacramento region have for the COVID vaccine. When she posted a flyer for the vaccination clinic on a Russian-language Facebook group, she got several angry emojis and this reaction in Russian: “Horror! Why advertise poison?”

One of the principal reasons for their hesitancy, Hryb says, is that the Russian-speaking community historically has a mistrust of all vaccines due to government mistrust.

“I grew up in Ukraine in Soviet Union times, and I often overheard my parents saying how little control they had in their life, how they mistrusted their government, and how they received little information from their medical providers because of the government,” Hryb said. “That mistrust in the government, even for some of us now growing up in United States, is deeply rooted.”

She also says that the Russian-speaking neighborhoods “are continuously bombarded by conspiracy theories specifically targeted to our community. So it’s really hard to find what is truth, what is right, and where to find the correct information.”