(Stock photo)

Black women leaders in California want to raise COVID vaccine awareness among young people across the state as the number of infections creep back up.

Last week, Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA), a statewide political advocacy organization, hosted a town hall meeting via Zoom organized to engage youth through their Young Enough to Know Campaign.

The effort is aimed at educating young people and their families about the importance of being vaccinated to protect themselves against COVID-19.

Vashone Huff, co-director of BWOPA’s Black & Vaxxed campaign, opened the town hall with a welcome message and stated the purpose of the gathering.

“We are focusing and engaging elementary, middle school, high school and college students in conversation and highlighting the voices and lives of those that are not too young to know about the impacts of COVID as well as the actions they can take to advocate and protect themselves and their families,” said Huff.

In East Oakland Council District 7, for example, there have been 1.3 million cases of COVID among youth ages 5-17. Less than 25% of youth in that age range are fully vaccinated.

Experts say there are many factors that contribute to this number including the short time the vaccine has been available for youth.

Last week, 19 California counties were recategorized as “medium risk” from “low risk,” based on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) three-level ranking system for tracking COVID hospitalization rates. Thirty-three of California’s 58 counties are now ranked in the “medium risk” category, accounting for more than 75 % of the state’s population, according to numbers compiled by the California Department of Public Health.

BWOPA says that is one reason the organization is working to encourage Black and Brown communities to fight the stigma surrounding the vaccine and encourage youth to become fully vaccinated.

At the beginning of the event, Huff introduced the hosts of the town hall: Lady Ray of iHeart Radio and Tyler Baty, a 7thgrade student and athlete at St. Leo the Great Catholic School in Oakland.

Baty, an accomplished student athlete and orator said it is important for kids his age to remain safe and continue to wear masks in public places. He also shared that many of his friends had come down with COVID and wants more youth and their parents to take the vaccine seriously.

BWOPA wants young people to know that that children ages 5-11 are eligible for the Pfizer vaccine, and kids 12 and older are now eligible for boosters.

Patricia-Blue Pharr, 11, shared her experience contracting COVID while at a summer camp last year. Pharr said she began to feel sick shortly after she arrived at the camp and had to return home.

“It just comes to show that COVID can spread really quickly. That’s why you have to be very careful,” said Pharr. “I had a lot of doctor’s appointments and had to stay home and not have contact with anybody. Anytime I wanted to eat, I had to take it to my room and eat it by myself. I couldn’t even sit on my porch which was really upsetting.”

Angela Sou, Program Manager for the Youth Engagement Program of the state’s Vaccinate All 58 Campaign, followed Pharr and shared her support for BWOPA and its efforts.

Vaccinate All 58 partners with BWOPA to providing funding for outreach and engagement within communities disproportionately affected by barriers to healthcare and information.

“These projects nurture a culture of trust, engagement, buy in and civic engagement. We want to make the conversations surrounding COVID-19 more accessible and collaborative,” said Sou.

According to BWOPA, hospitalizations due to COVID-19 are eleven times higher in unvaccinated children than fully vaccinated ones. Across the United States, ICU COVID hospitalizations for children are on par with the numbers for adults.

Oakland City Councilmember Treva Reid (District 7) also spoke at the town hall, offering encouragement to the youth attending and sharing a message to the people as they prepare for a safe summer.

“As people are going back to their daily activities people are not wearing masks,” said Reid. “Be sure to get involved in these conversations and influencing people in your family and communities. You are young enough to know, you are young enough to advocate as we all work to come through Covid and love each other through it all.”

Other speakers included Dr. Norlisa Cooper of BWOPA, Jessica King and Aldane Waters, who helped produce a public service announcement (PSA) aimed towards youth and their parents about the importance of wearing masks, staying socially distant and becoming fully vaccinated.

Visit blackandvaxxed.org to learn more about BWOPA’s efforts to raise awareness.