Science, Technology and Health

Seattle U in the News: To fight COVID-19 with vaccines, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in Washington first need to be seen

March 2, 2021

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Seattle U graduate student and alumni Joseph Seia, ’08, helped create a pop-up COVID-19 vaccination clinic specifically for Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders.

A Seattle Times story about the first-in-the-nation pop-up COVID-19 vaccination clinic for Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders (NHPI) includes an interview with Seattle U alum Joseph Seia, executive director and founder of the Pacific Islander Community Association of Washington. Seia, currently a student in the Master of Public Administration program, said the state’s vaccine rollout hasn’t been fair and equitable to people with fewer resources.

Unlike the mass-vaccination clinics across the state that are mostly booked through online appointments, the NHPI clinic put on by the Pacific Islander Community Association of Washington (PICA-WA) at its office and at Swedish Hospital was intentionally a low-tech affair. There was no race to secure an appointment online. Instead, PICA-WA reached out to Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders by phone and social media, registering them when they arrived at the clinic.

“It’s an equity thing. People don’t have technology,” says Seia. “The most impacted folks aren’t able to do it. They have to rely on their family to do that for them.”

Here are some excerpts from the story:

The elders lined up outside a one-story Federal Way office building, umbrellas and hoods shielding them from a soft rain. A broad-shouldered man in a red hoodie with black Pasifika patterns and a black mask walked the line greeting his elders while they waited for something everyone is trying to get: the COVID-19 vaccine.

Even in the gathering of 100-plus people, Joseph Seia is hard to ignore. The outspoken 37-year-old can’t afford to be ignored if he wants to help fellow Pacific Islanders, whose suffering during the coronavirus pandemic far outstrips their numbers in Washington, the state with the third-largest population of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in the nation.

Before the 150 elders were inoculated at the first-in-the-nation pop-up COVID-19 vaccination clinic specifically for Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders (NHPI) on Feb. 4, Seia didn’t know one elder in his community who had been vaccinated without his help.

Seia, and others in the NHPI community, knew they had to take action because more than a year after the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in a Snohomish County man and a year after the nation’s first death, Pacific Islanders are being infected and dying at higher rates than any other group.

The numbers tell the devastating story. Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders make up about 1% of Washington state’s population but account for 2% of cases in the state, according to the state Department of Health (DOH).

Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders have the highest average case rate of any race and ethnicity in the state at 7,132 per 100,000 people and also lead in deaths per 100,000, with an average of 151 as of Feb. 21, according to the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.

 

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