By Marie Saavedra

CHICAGO (CBS) — Rollouts like the one for the COVID-19 vaccine are inherently difficult. In neighborhoods where there can be a mistrust of government and health care, it is even harder, so the effort in Little Village is not to inform from the top down but from neighbor to neighbor.

The pandemic in so many ways, made the world stop, but no one would know it in Little Village.

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“A lot of the community residents in this neighborhood are frontline workers,” said Maritza Guzman with latinos Progresando. “They don’t have the luxury to work from home, so that means being exposed.

Latinos Progresando is a community group that has a front row seat to the need to get its own blocks protected. City data shows one in eight people in Zip code 60623 have had COVID-19 in the last year. Those numbers earned it a spot in the Protect Chicago Plus Program.

“Our biggest concern is disconnection to care,” said Dr. Sybil Madison, deputy mayor for education and human services for the Chicago Department of Public Health.

Madison is working with CDPH, directing shots to zip codes where hurdles are highest, including lack of documentation and vaccine skepticism. So how do you educate people and change minds? Meet them where they are. The city is using doctors who work in at risk communities to speak to those same communities because people want information from who they already know and trust.

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“We just find that having more and more people who are neighbors, who are relatives, who are friends sharing their own personal experiences help build that confidence,” Madison said.

That’s where groups like Guzman’s come in. The city is partnering with them to connect to people at ground level.

“Latinos Progresando has been working to make sure that they get accurate information in their language and that we spread the word,” Guzman said.

Through Facebook posts, Twitter, and bilingual flyers, the information campaign has gone grassroots, and it is getting results. At the end of this week, 11,791 people in 60623 have had their first dose. That makes 14.5% of Guzman’s neighbors. Just 85.5% more to go.

“I think the Chicago Protection Plus Program has been a beacon of hope, and now we can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” she said.

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More proof that neighborhood groups are doing their job is a lack of appointments. Guzman said they have filled every one available in their community clinics right now. They are hoping for more vaccine doses in the coming days, which will allow them to get more people signed up. 

Marie Saavedra