County officials are targeting more vaccinations to the Muslim community following a push from the nonprofit community group, Latino and Muslim Unity.

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The group’s founder, Rida Hamida and her nonprofit are working with people on the ground, mosques and the county.

While Muslims come from different ethnicities, it’s unclear if there’s a vaccination gap or how much the pandemic has impacted the Arab community because the state and the U.S. Census Bureau doesn’t have a specific ethnic designation for Arabs.

There’s also no data on how the virus has impacted the greater Middle Eastern and North African community, who are not all Muslim, nor how many have been vaccinated.

“It’s kind of driven by the U.S. Census and the categories that they use and the state follows,” Dr. Curtis Condon, research director for the county’s Health Care Agency, said.

Long before the pandemic, some people across the country have been pushing for a Middle Eastern/North African category to be added to the census.

Health Care Agency director and county Health Officer, Dr. Clayton Chau, said because of the lack of data, no one really knows the impact the virus has had on the community across the country. 

He added that when it comes to vaccines it’s the California immunization registry database that doesn’t separate out the Arab community.

“I think it’s really important and it needs to be done, but that’s the way the state system collects data,” Chau said.

Rida Hamida, founder of Latino and Muslim Unity, celebrates with women who got vaccinated at the Anaheim Convention Center and gives them care packages with masks, water and snacks before Ramadan. Credit: Courtesy of Rida Hamida

Hamida said efforts to get vaccines to the Muslim community haven’t been easy. 

Some Muslims are on the fence about getting vaccinated, while others are unaware shots are available to them.

Hamida said outreach is needed to the Muslim community.

“We are the ones who broke down the door to ensure that our community was being outreached to and had meaningful dialogue with our Islamic centers and others on the ground to show that while there are people on the fence, there are people that are also excited to get vaccinated they just needed to be part of the conversation,” Hamida said.

She said simply sending a link to the community about vaccines isn’t enough. 

“I’ve had to do a lot of education with the community to help them understand that this is about protecting their family members. There are family members dying from Covid-19 and I had to help them understand that this process is safe,” Hamida said. “This is very personal to our community.”

Now it is Ramadan, the Islamic holy month when Muslims are fasting without water and food from sunrise to sunset. 

A man lays out Islamic prayer rugs on April 22, 2021 outside the Dessert Moon restaurant in Anaheim, right before Muslims are able to break their fast for the day. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Hamida is using the month to start organizing mobile vaccine clinics at mosques across the county.

“It took me weeks and weeks to educate the health care agency on how important it was to get Muslims even vaccinated before Ramadan and have these mobile clinics at mosques to meet people where they’re at.” 

Latino and Muslim Unity is using a similar approach as Latino and Asian American community organizations have been doing to get shots to the hardest hit residents throughout Orange County and close persisting gaps.  

[ Read: OC’s Latino Coronavirus Vaccination Rate Could Increase If Health Clinics Stay On Course ]

A first clinic at the Islamic Center of Santa Ana on May 1 is scheduled from 7:30-9 p.m., collaborating with the county and Care Ambulance Service and using Hamida’s “Taco Trucks at Every Mosque” model to get both Muslims and non-Muslims vaccinated.

“Rida’s group reached out to the county and they needed somebody that could meet their needs as far as getting vaccinations with the stipulation that they were in the middle of Ramadan,” said Lisa Carrillo, a paramedic with Care Ambulance Service.

“We’re doing these clinics at night to not interfere with the fasting hours.”

Another clinic featuring a taco truck again is scheduled for May 8 at the Al-Ansar mosque in Anaheim. 

Santa Ana and Anaheim — where the mosques are located — have been hit hardest by the pandemic.

The two cities make up roughly 21% of the county’s population, yet have 34% of the cases and 35% of deaths. 

Hamida said her work pushed county officials to hold clinics at mosques too.

The county is collaborating with the Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations to hold a mobile Moderna vaccine clinic at the Islamic Society of Orange County in Garden Grove Friday night.

The event to vaccinate 200 people is slated for 8:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. after fasting hours.

Chau said the county will have a mobile clinic at a mosque in Irvine next week. He added hat Hamida and other members of OC’s Muslim Community reached out to the county to get the vaccine more accessible to Muslims.

“Ramadan ends on May 12. Our plan is after May 12 that on Fridays, during the daytime, we will continue to support the mobile pods at various mosques in Orange County,” Chau said.

He added that the county has had pods at various faith-based institutions and that this is the first time they’re having one for Muslims. The county will continue having vaccine pods with other religious institutions as well.

“Our effort will be concentrating on mobile pods because I strongly believe that that’s the only way to reach into the hard to reach as well as the vulnerable communities,” Chau said.

Hamida said she worked hard to get the county to secure over 100 vaccines at the Anaheim Convention Center for the Muslim community just days before Ramadan.

Within 24 hours, Hamida and her team raced to ensure those appointment slots were filled with help from the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California and were ultimately successful.

Lucy Silva, advisory board member of Latino and Muslim unity, receives vaccine as part of the group’s effort to vaccinate Muslims with Taco Trucks at Every Mosque initiative. Credit: Courtesy of Rida Hamida

Azeem Syed, chair of the council, said they helped Hamida put out the word on the shots and have also educated the community on vaccines.

“We were letting people know that they had nothing to necessarily worry about in terms of fasting and getting vaccinated,” Syed said. “The Shura Council specifically had seminars with religious and medical experts about the importance of vaccinations and maintaining health.”

Meanwhile, Orange County’s virus hospitalizations have remained around 120. 

As of Thursday, 116 people were hospitalized, including 25 in intensive care units.

The virus has now killed 4,948 people — nine times more than the flu kills on a yearly average. 

COVID deaths surpassed average yearly cancer deaths in OC. 

It’s also killed more than heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and strokes do on a yearly average, respectively. 

Orange County has averaged around 20,000 deaths a year since 2016, including 543 annual flu deaths, according to state health data.

Last year, more than 24,400 OC residents died, according to the latest state health data.

According to the state death statistics, cancer kills over 4,600 people, heart disease kills over 2,800, more than 1,400 die from Alzheimer’s disease and strokes kill over 1,300 people.

Here’s the latest on the virus numbers across Orange County from county data:
Infections | Hospitalizations & Deaths | City-by-City Data

Reporter Spencer Custodio contributed to this story.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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