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The grassroots effort to get Somali Americans vaccinated

Somali Americans vax
Posted at 9:17 AM, Apr 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-26 15:18:20-04

It’s known as the ‘Land of 10,000 Lakes,’ but Minnesota is also home to this country's largest population of Somali Americans.

Kamaal Muhamed is like many who've escaped the war-torn East African nation of Somali and has ended up calling the streets of Minneapolis home.

"Somali has been unsettled and in Civil War, without a good functioning government for 30 years now," Muhamed explained.

For a community that often lives in close, crowded quarters, COVID-19 has taken a tremendous toll.

"It really hit hard. It really hit hard," Muhamed said.

Muhamed runs the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota. The organization has been doing whatever it can to make sure Somali's across this state get vaccinated.

"We’re encouraging folks to take the vaccine for the first opportunity they get," he added.

One of the biggest challenges in getting Somali Americans vaccinated has been the language barrier. So, with the help of the University of Minnesota, Muhamed has been translating COVID-19 vaccination information sheets into Somali.

There's a long history of underlying distrust that Somali Americans and other communities of color often have toward vaccines. Mohamed Ibirahim is another community leader in the Twin Cities area working to combat some of that historical vaccine hesitancy.

"I have seen a lot of people I love die. They didn’t have the vaccine. Now, the vaccine is available, so why not?" he asked.

April is also the month of Ramadan. Public health officials are using that as part of their vaccination outreach campaign. Imams who get vaccinated are encouraging other members of their mosques to do the same.

Sumaya Noor is with the Hennepin County Health Department and has been working daily to combat false narratives floating around.

"There’s still the misinformation that you can’t get vaccinated while fasting and Imams are telling the community you can," Noor said.