King County’s diverse South Asian community unites to fight COVID-19 

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On most Sundays, the Gurudwara Singh Sabha is a gathering place for members of the Sikh faith, most of them immigrants from the Punjab region of India. They come to pray, to socialize and to do work that promotes principles of Sikhi: equality, justice and wellness for all. 

On a recent weekend, it was a gathering place for Sikhs, Hindus, and Muslims; for Indians, Pakistanis and Nepalis; for college students, essential workers, and the elderly.   

All the diverse groups that make up the mosaic of South Asians in King County came together for a community vaccination event in Renton. Their goal was to make sure the most vulnerable members of their community had a chance to protect themselves from COVID-19. 

Isher Singh, principal of the Gurmat Khalsa School, a lead organizer of a community vaccination event held at the Gurudwara Singh Sabha on April. 25. (PHSKC/Ben Stocking)

Supported by an array of South Asian community organizations, they held a vaccination event at the gurudwara, the largest and oldest place of worship for Sikhs in King County.

Small, targeted clinics like this one are part of King County’s strategy for bringing vaccinations to everyone. They are an important way to reach people who might have difficulty booking appointments due to language barriers, lack of internet access, or transportation challenges. 

The organizers of the Renton clinic united to promote health equity. 

“Each of us is trying to focus on the most vulnerable members of our communities by creating a vaccination event in their primary language and in a comfortable cultural setting,” said Dr. Angad Singh, a physician at the University of Washington and founding member of the Punjabi Health Board of King County.  

“We’re coming together from across the community to save lives,” said Mehr Grewal of Worth A Shot, a youth organization that campaigns to get people vaccinated. 

In turbulent times, a comfortable place 

Due to the recent wave of anti-Asian violence, many South Asians have been hesitant to venture into unfamiliar places, said Tulika Dugar, an outreach worker with the India Association of Western Washington.  

“People feel very vulnerable,” Dugar said. “We are trying to address the community where they are. We wanted to have a safe place for them.” 

The clinic organizers recruited volunteer registrars, interpreters, vaccinators, medical observers, and health navigators fluent in 14 languages, including Hindu, Urdu, Punjabi, Burmese, Bhutanese, and Nepali.  

  • Man with blue mask and orange turban gives a thumbs up sign
  • Woman in blue surgical mask, red sweater and brightly colored scarf
  • A dome atop the gurudwara
  • Two women in masks
  • Woman in mask and blue scarf sitting in chair

Some of the people who signed up had been hesitant to get vaccinated due to concerns about safety. 

“When they see that the vaccination is coming to them from an institution they trust – a Sikh temple – they want to get it,” said Dr. Anita Chopra, a UW physician and member of the Gurudwara Singh Sabha community. 

Sukhwinder Kaur came to the event with her sister-in-law, Surjit Kaur. Speaking through an interpreter in their native Punjabi, they explained that they had learned about the event from their English-speaking granddaughters, who heard about it from the gurudwara. 

Surjit has two jobs and Sukhwinder has three. They could only have attended a clinic on Sunday, their one day off.  

“I work 65 hours a week at Amazon, Fedex and Jack-in-the-Box,” Sukhwinder  said. “We come to the gurudwara every Sunday, so it was very convenient to get vaccinated here.” 

A focus on community

Over 415 vaccines were delivered at the event, which was co-sponsored by the gurudwara, HealthPoint-Renton, and Public Health – Seattle & King County. Partnering organizations included the Punjabi Health Board, Nepal Seattle Society, India Association of Western Washington, Worth a Shot, and Utsav. 

From the beginning of the pandemic, gurudwara members have been making meals and delivering them to frontline health care workers, said Isher Singh, principal of the Gurmat Khalsa School, located next door to the gurudwara. 

“We pray twice a day for everyone, irrespective of color, nationality or creed,” he said. “We consider all humans one race. All humans are one. We believe in wellness for all.” 

Another community vaccination event will be held Sunday, May 16, at the Bothell Gurudwara. Details are available here.

Originally published 5/12/21