Complex Obstacles As Latino Vaccine Numbers Lag Behind Cases

Health experts say past medical abuse of Latinos, government mistrust, lack of access may be feeding vaccine shortfall among Hispanics.
Posted at 7:42 PM, Apr 27, 2021

"Significa el sol. The Sun." Maria Carolina shows the masks she’s made by hand, to help protect her community. 

She’s 34. A single mom, and a farm worker. In the U.S. since 2018, from Guatemala. This past year, she’s seen COVID hit hard. 

"It has been so difficult living through the pandemic, the protection was not there and it was so easy for any of us to become ill," Carolina said. 

In Florida, where she lives, 41% of COVID cases are Latino. But only 22 percent those vaccinated are Latino. 

"There's still vast discrepancies between various racial and ethnic groups," Nambi Ndugga, Racial Equity and Health Policy Analyst, Kaiser Family Foundation said. 

new analysis from the Kaiser family foundation shows it’s the same for Latinos in almost every state. Colorado - 42 percent of cases, only 10 percent of vaccinations. In Arizona, 14% of vaccinations have gone to Latinos. But they make up for 40% of cases. North Carolina, 6% of vaccinations, 21% of cases.

Why is this still happening? There are several contributing factors: Accessibility, lack of information in Spanish, vaccine times that conflict with the schedules of many who are essential workers. And documentation. 

That’s the situation with Maria. She was able to get her first dose during a hospital stay, but can’t get her second because she doesn’t have the required Florida driver’s license or state-issued ID.

And then there are people who don’t trust the vaccine, the drugmakers, the government. And you don’t have to look back far to see why that distrust runs deep for many Spanish-speaking women. 

1970’s California-and the landmark case Madrigal v. Quilligan. Ten working-class Mexican-origin women sued Los Angeles County General Hospital, saying they’d been coerced into getting their tubes tied — minutes to hours after undergoing C-sections.

It doesn’t end there. In September 2020, a whistleblower complained of forced hysterectomies on women detained in ICE facilities. It fuels skepticism that isn’t isolated to one region.

"Those resonate in people's minds. Is this vaccine going to make me sterile? Is this a way for the government to make us not to be able to have children, children being a wealth of our community," Dr. Viviana Martinez-Bianchi, a family doctor and the director of Health Equity in Family Medicine and Community Health at Duke University told Newsy.

Battling the doubt isn’t easy. For Dr. Martinez-Bianchi, it means spending extra hours out in her community, to help.

"This weekend we vaccinated two thousand seventy five Latinos in six in six churches in it and a credit union, the Latino trade union. And then I realize, oh, and we have ninety thousand people haven't gotten a vaccine yet," she said. 

"If they didn't want to take it two or three weeks from now, as they find out that family members have taken the vaccine, they feel more comfortable and they're taking it," Aaron Ortiz, CEO, La Familia said. 

Hayward California, the trust is there…if it's coming from La Familia --a multicultural organization with a 40-year track record of engagement in the Latino community. They have been working with FEMA and the state to be a trust broker of sorts, for vaccines. 

Their staff calls hundreds a day, in Spanish. Focusing on cultural competency and language- CEO Aaron Ortiz says-is key to their successful turnout. 

"So how many people have you vaccinated here total, and how many of them are Latino?" 

 "So total that have taken the vaccine here, close to 3200 with the week and a half . And close to 80 and 90 percent of the people that have been vaccinated here have been Latinos." 

"About a third of the people getting vaccinated at community health care centers are members of the Latinx population, which is a lot higher compared to the national average of Latinos getting vaccinated at these mass vaccination sites, which sits at about 11 percent," Ndugga said.

But the trust in Hayward, isn’t as commonplace as it should be, Martinez-Bianchi says. 

"We need to take it away from the people's hesitation to the trustworthiness of government systems, trustworthiness of health systems and providers of vaccines."

The Biden Administration has promised $6 billion dollars to get vaccines to Community Health Center sites like this one. But Ortiz says they could still help more people with a larger supply, and have even begun buying their own from a third-party supplier.

Moving forward, analysts think that Latino vaccination numbers could get better, but it will really vary depending on the experiences people have had with the healthcare industry where they live.