Get your shave and your shot: Gee's Clippers helps ramp up vaccinations in minority communities

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- State and local leaders are stressing the importance of building trust within communities of color to increase vaccination rates in minority communities. Milwaukee County's vaccination rates are lagging within the African American and Hispanic populations.

"I'm doing my part and that's pretty much what I try to do at Gee's Clippers and always have, try to be that community hub if you will, where we can help our community move forward in a positive manner," said Gaulien "Gee" Smith, owner of Gee's Clippers.

On Thursday, state officials visited one of three Gee's Clippers weekly vaccination clinics in Milwaukee. They praised the work Gee Smith's barbershop is doing to make vaccines easy and accessible for many in the neighborhood.

"Think about some of the barriers that people have to getting vaccinated. Here, all barriers are removed, and not just about barriers but about a friendly environment that you're used to, that you're comfortable with," said Dawn Crim, secretary-designee of the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services.

"One day at a time, and hopefully, you know, people will bend or you know, go and give in. I know I've seen quite a few individuals that have gotten the shot because they say I offer it here and they know I've taken the vaccination," adds Smith.

Gee's Clippers and Hayat Pharmacy have teamed up to offer vaccines to community members as young as 12 at the barbershop. As of Thursday, Milwaukee County's vaccination rate for the African American community stands at 26-percent and for the Hispanic community it's at 36-percent. Health experts say it is concerning, especially with the Delta variant circulating in Wisconsin, and likely in the county.

"The strategy at the state level, at the local level has shifted, the goal now is certainly not to waste any vaccines, but most importantly, never to waste an opportunity to get somebody vaccinated," adds Dr. Ben Weston, associate professor at Medical College of Wisconsin & medical director at Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management.

"We are getting closer to a return to normal and the best way to reach that goal fully is for more people to get vaccinated," said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

Along with community clinics, Milwaukee County is also funding an initiative to send out 40-80 people to door knock with vaccine information in 15 vulnerable ZIP codes. Area health officials say having a trusted voice within communities of color is crucial.

"Now we've moved out to doing things that are smaller, in neighborhoods, in the community, so we're meeting people where they are," said Joel Brennan, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Administration.  

“We have people who are trusted messengers, people who are willing, who have already gotten vaccines themselves, talking about how important it is, but also how safe it is. I think that helps us,” adds Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes.

Gee's Clippers will continue to host vaccine clinics every Thursday and Friday from 3 to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. As of now, Gee says he does not have a deadline of when the clinics will end.

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