Teens organize webinar to tackle vaccine hesitancy among Austin’s refugee community

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Nabila Sultan fires up Zoom on her iPad.

“Hello?” she said, after admitting Muaz Butt into the meeting. “How are you?”

Butt moved to Austin from Pakistan about five years ago. He’s known his tutor, Sultan, for three of those years.

“Math, science, reading — whatever I need help with,” said Butt, the aspiring computer scientist.

But recently, another subject has come up: COVID-19 vaccines.

“I was tutoring Muaz one day, and he was just telling me how he didn’t really have a lot of information about the vaccine and how he was like, concerned about the safety of the vaccine,” said Sultan.

“The fever itself, I guess,” Butt said.

That surprised 17-year-old Sultan, who was excited to get her COVID-19 shots. So, she and her sister decided to organize an informational webinar on Saturday in partnership with Vax Together Austin and a local physician.

They’re also organizing short videos about the vaccine in different languages.

“So that everyone can hear about the vaccine and its information in their own language, so that it’s just more familiar to them,” Sultan said.

Butt and his friends, some of whom are also concerned about getting the vaccine, plan to attend. They live in east Austin, which houses many neighborhoods most at risk for COVID-19.

“Our work is pretty tightly focused on addressing those disparities,” said Katie Van Winkle with Vax Together Austin.

Current state data indicates those areas are also still seeing lower vaccination rates than their counterparts west of Interstate 35. Butt, for example, lives in a pocket where less than 30% of people are fully vaccinated.

“Start bringing pharmacists and other immunizers into communities that hadn’t had as much access or as much vaccine uptick as other neighborhoods in Austin and surrounding areas,” Van Winkle said.

She said bringing clinics to trusted, familiar sites, like churches and community centers, help reduce barriers.

That’s the concept Sultan hopes works for her webinar — even if it doesn’t necessarily mean attendees will sign up for the vaccine right away.

“At the very least, I just want them to be more informed about the vaccine,” she said.

“I think it was a great idea, because a lot of people could find their answers, probably, just from here,” Butt said, adding it helps having familiar faces as hosts. “I might be comfortable speaking and asking questions.”

The virtual event is free and open to the public.

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