The Journal Gazette
Thursday, April 01, 2021 1:00 am

Catholic Charities aids Burmese with vaccines


Soe Naing of Fort Wayne registered to get a COVID-19 vaccination Wednesday, and the refugee from Myanmar, formerly Burma, was happy to do it.

“This is a whole world thing,” Naing, 37, said through a translator, Nyein Chen, director of resettlement for Catholic Charities of Fort Wayne-South Bend. 

“This is not just for me or for my family. I don't want other people to get sick because of me,” Naing said.

Dozens of members of Fort Wayne's Burmese refugee community joined Naing on Wednesday in getting help with vaccine registration in a Catholic Charities van dispatched to two neighborhoods where many resettled refugees live.

It was the first time the van was used for the purpose of vaccination registration, Chen said; it typically travels so staff members can help people with other emergency needs such as housing.

For two hours Wednesday morning, people waited in line at the first van stop at a community room at the Autumn Woods apartment complex in southeast Fort Wayne. The two-hour clinic that Naing, a restaurant worker, visited Wednesday afternoon took place at Brendonwood Park Apartments off Decatur Road.

Another sign-up session is planned for 10 a.m. to noon today at Oak River Apartments, 1823 Griswold Drive.

Chen said the sign-up help is needed in the community because refugees either don't speak English well or don't have computers or smartphones needed to use state-sponsored vaccine registration sites.

The registration sites were reported busy Wednesday, the first day eligibility was opened to anyone 16 and older.

The state offers a 211 telephone helpline for sign-ups, and other organizations and libraries around Indiana also have been helping people register. But, Chen said, with refugees from Myanmar, the language barrier is substantial.

Three languages – Burmese, Karen and Chin – are spoken in the Fort Wayne area's refugee community. The van is equipped with people who can assist with each, Chen said.

People affiliated with Catholic Charities also plan to call those they've registered the day before their scheduled shots and provide transportation to local vaccination sites and translation services, he said.

In the first two hours, more than 55 people were registered, Chen said. A steady stream of people were arriving by 1 p.m. at the van's afternoon stop, including two who said they needed to register quickly so they wouldn't be late to work.

The long hours many refugees put in and long commutes are another potential barrier to getting registered and vaccinated, Chen said.

Anyone who needs help registering can do so through the van, he said. People who register receive free hand sanitizer and information about COVID-19.

Chen said it's difficult to know how many refugees from Myanmar have gotten COVID-19 or died from it or have been vaccinated.

The state health department says 1.4% cases and 0.6% of deaths in Indiana have been in Asians but provides no further breakdown.

Chen said local refugees from Myanmar work in industries including poultry processing and personal care where they might have occupational exposure, and some people he's talked to have known people who have become sick. 

The van's schedule is still being planned, and it will depend on demand, Chen said. More information can be had by calling 422-5625. The van's registration help is free for anyone, not just refugees, he said.

There has been little resistance about signing up or getting a shot, he said, adding that no one is forced to be vaccinated.

“We just try to educate them about the virus and (the vaccine). We aren't pressuring them to get it,” Chen said. 

“They understand – some think, 'Oh, we're not going to catch the virus,' but we explain this is not just about you,” he added. “We are just making sure everybody who wants to get vaccinated will get their vaccination.”

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