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Community volunteers go door-to-door to provide COVID-19 vaccinations in Milwaukee neighborhoods

Over the last year and a half, Marcus Austin of Milwaukee watched as friends and extended family members died from COVID-19. Austin said that he did not think the Black community had gotten enough education about the coronavirus, and he wanted to help change that.

Austin is one of several residents living in the city’s 53206 zip code volunteering to go door-to-door to get people vaccinated.

“It’s very important that we get out here and educate the people in this community about COVID and the dangers of it,” Austin said during a press conference Wednesday held to promote the community mobilization efforts.

The work is being led by Jump at the Sun Consultants with support from the City of Milwaukee Health Department, Milwaukee Fire Department, Milwaukee County and Alverno College’s nursing program.

Overall, 48.7 percent of Milwaukee County residents have had at least one vaccination dose, according to the state Department of Health Services. By comparison, about 28 percent of people living in 53206 had received their first dose as of June 29, according to the Milwaukee Health Department, and 24 percent were fully vaccinated.

Of the vaccinated people in Milwaukee County, 258,985 are white; 70,225 are Black; and 54,657 are Hispanic, according to Milwaukee County data. Since the door-to-door vaccine clinics started, they have given vaccines to almost 200 residents, said Lorraine Lathen, who leads Jump at the Sun.

Vaccinators are able to take time to talk to residents, educate people with science and give them facts, Lathen said.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett called the approach the next, most intricate chapter in the city’s vaccination journey. He said the infection rate in Milwaukee is low — 1.2 percent — but by reaching people where they live, no community will be forgotten.

“We do not want any part of this community to be devastated by the delta variant (of the coronavirus) and we do not know what is going to happen this fall,” Barrett said. “If people will trust the science, if people will trust the health care, if people will trust the vaccine, we will be able to declare victory.”

Lathen’s twin sister, Elaine Lathen is a middle school teacher who is using her education skills as a mobile vaccinator.

She said the work can be both rewarding and discouraging when doors are slammed in her face.

“It’s important to have facts versus fiction. We have to bring the facts to our community,” Lathen said. “We come into the neighborhood respectfully, in return we just want you to be safe, and alive and ready to pass that knowledge to others in that community.”

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