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Lots of COVID-19 but little vaccination: Why is 85009 a community struggling to get the shot?

Posted at 6:47 PM, Feb 25, 2021

PHOENIX — It is one of the Valley's hardest-hit communities by COVID-19, yet among the least vaccinated against the virus.

The west Phoenix zip code of 85009 lags behind the rest of Maricopa County in the percentage of people getting the vaccine who are eligible to do so. The zip code encompasses the area between 19th and 43rd avenues as well as between Thomas and West Lower Buckeye roads.

According to data from Maricopa County, 16.2% of those eligible for the vaccine in 85009 have gotten the shot. Rates are much higher in zip codes across the county. For comparison, the zip code immediately to the west, 85043, is at 54.3%. Up in Paradise Valley, zip code 85253, 87.9% of people eligible have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

"There's not much money around here," said Alex Valdez, who lives in 85009.

Valdez told ABC15 given the challenges facing the community, low incomes, and barriers with transportation, that could help explain why so few people have received the COVID-19 vaccine.

"I feel like it would be money and transportation," Valdez said about the issue. "I feel like a lot of people...are worried about other things."

According to the latest Census data, zip code 85009 has a population of approximately 51,000 people. The demographic makeup is more than 80% Hispanic and the median household income is below $33,000 annually.

According to ABC15 data guru Garrett Archer, 85009 still ranks among the 10 highest zip codes for COVID-19 cases.

An advocate for underserved communities told ABC15 she's not shocked by the low vaccination rate in the zip code.

"I'm not surprised, this is one of the poorest districts in the metropolitan area," said Maria Jesus Cervantes with the non-profit Chicanos Por la Causa. "There's absolutely long-standing barriers, from transportation, access to healthcare and also the digital divide and all of this, of course, has become more evident by the disproportionate impact of the pandemic."

Cervantes told ABC15 the organization is working to advocate for - and provide direct resources to - the community to try and solve the problem. She also noted that this lower-income community is made up of many essential workers, trying to put food on the table and perhaps don't have the time to seek out the vaccine.

"Low-income families that day-to-day are trying to figure out how to survive," Cervantes said.

On Thursday, the Arizona Department of Health Services was scheduled to conduct the second of four telephone town halls for those living in the 85009 zip code. The one Thursday is in Spanish. Another is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. in English on March 9, and then again in Spanish at 6:30 p.m. on March 11.

This week, Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ said the department is looking at redoing the COVID-19 webpage that will be done in both English and Spanish. Dr. Christ said they are working to expand outreach and registration assistance.

"We're also going to be partnering, as we get more vaccine, trying to get more community-based and local vaccination sites," Dr. Christ said Wednesday. "Places like community colleges, churches, where people live nearby, to make sure there's not a barrier due to transportation."

On Thursday, a representative from Maricopa County told ABC15 the county will be "piloting a program" to provide additional vaccine opportunities for those people living in the 85009 and 85007 zip codes. Senior Communications Officer Ron Coleman also told ABC15 the county, in partnership with the City of Phoenix, is planning pop-up events tailored to those communities, with the goal of ensuring priority access for those residents living near the events.

Valdez told ABC15 his mom, who previously contracted COVID-19, is yet to get the vaccine.

"She feels kind of unsafe, because there's not much information out there about it, well for her, because she speaks Spanish only," he said.

Valdez said his mom has not been able to receive enough vaccine-related information, in Spanish, to decide whether to get it and how to do so.

"She just kind of goes based off what they say on the news, but sometimes...she [doesn't] have time to watch it," Valdez said. "Or she's just too tired from work."

Valdez believes additional outreach from local and state officials is needed in the 85009 zip code.

"I feel like they should come out here, try to explain to the people why they should get vaccinated," he said. "Come out here, bring a couple people, knocking on doors, asking around, see if they can give more information about the vaccine, where to go, what times, what they need."