This Sikh doctor helped bring vaccines to a Renton temple — and it worked
In January, Dr. Angad Singh was worried.
People in his community — the Punjabi community — were getting Covid, and more contagious variants were starting to spread.
“The initial testing suggested that folks of Punjabi descent were getting disproportionate rates of Covid-19 infections,” Singh said. “We were very, very scared.”
Singh later learned that Punjabis weren’t getting Covid at disproportionate rates. The problem was that the disease was out of control throughout south King County, where many Punjabis live.
But the fear planted a seed.
“We didn't want someone else to come tell us what we need to do,” Singh said. “We wanted to understand for ourselves, and be able to work within our own community to address the issues.”
For Singh, addressing the issue meant making sure his community had access to the Covid vaccine. He said he’s met members of the Punjabi community who want a vaccine but may not feel comfortable — or be able to — go to a mass vaccination site to get one.
“Many of the members of my community may or may not speak English, or may or may not have been recent immigrants,” Singh said. “They really would want to be vaccinated in a place they find comfortable and convenient.”
So Singh worked with others in his community to set up a vaccine clinic at the Sikh temple, or gurdwara, in Renton. Over two Sundays, the clinic at the temple got more than 400 people their first and second doses.
For some, getting vaccinated at their place of worship was simply more convenient. One man here said that he had trouble getting an appointment earlier on, but no trouble getting his vaccine at the gurdwara.
For others, getting vaccinated here meant being able to communicate in their own language. Most of the volunteers — from the greeters to the people at the registration table to the vaccinators and the post-vaccination observers — were of South Asian descent. They were able to translate and interpret in 14 languages — not just Punjabi, but Nepali, Urdu, and other South Asian languages.
But, for many, the vaccine clinic’s location was about much more than convenience.
“People told us that the gurdwara is a sanctuary to them,” Singh said. “And so they wanted to be in a space that they considered a sanctuary.”
Harinder Dhanda, 28, lives in Seatac with her family. She comes to this Sikh temple in Renton every Sunday.
When she and her husband became eligible for the Covid vaccine, she said he was scared.
“He's like, ‘We have to wait because of the side effects,’” she said. “I'm like, ‘Okay.’”
But, one Sunday this spring, they went to the temple to worship, and saw a vaccine clinic in the parking lot.
Dhanda said she told her husband, “We have to take vaccine from here.”
She convinced him, and they both got their first dose.
Dhanda’s husband isn’t the only one who arrived with questions and left with the vaccine. Many here were able to get the information they wanted from a trusted source, in their own language.
Dr. Singh himself convinced eight to 10 people who were on the fence to get their shots.
A third of Washington state residents still haven’t gotten the Covid vaccine. Dr. Singh said he hears “a lot of resignation” about these unvaccinated people, but he's not as pessimistic.
"I think that there is still a large swath of folks that, when they're in the right setting, with the right people, that many of those barriers melt," he said. "And you can really focus on the key issues of what's preventing their vaccination, or why they're not sure, rather than worrying about getting into the vaccination site in the first place."
As for Dhanda, she’s become a bit of an evangelist for community-based vaccine clinics.
“They should arrange events like that, so people who come here for worship, so everyone gets vaccinated as soon as possible,” she said. “Some people have a language problem, so it’s better if they come here so they don’t have to face those problems.”