Latinos Want To Get Vaccinated Against COVID-19, But Still Face Barriers In NC
After months of wanting to receive his COVID-19 vaccine, Pedro Gutiérrez got a call from his wife, Ana, urging him to pass by the Cooks Flea Market in Winston-Salem, since Forsyth County Department of Public Health was offering the vaccinations for free.
“My schedule was really uncomfortable,” Gutiérrez explained, “and for people who are working, you don’t want to miss work, since you have to provide for your family, and buy food.”
Since his regular schedule wouldn’t allow him to get vaccinated during weekdays, he took some time off last month, but when he went to Walgreens, they asked him for identification and at the moment he wasn’t carrying any.
Both Pedro and Ana Gutiérrez suffered the effects of the disease firsthand since everyone in their household got infected with COVID-19 around Christmas. The family made the choice to get vaccinated as soon as they had the opportunity, and even though Ana got the vaccine through her place of work, Pedro didn’t get the chance to do it until this past weekend.
The Gutiérrez family is not the exception — many Latinos would like to receive the vaccine, but have to jump through hoops in order to receive it. According to Kaiser Health News, one-third of unvaccinated Latinos are eager to get vaccinated. However, many are scared to miss work due to the vaccine’s side effects or are worried they have to pay out-of-pocket costs to get the vaccine. Many also are concerned they won’t be able to get it from a place they trust or may be required to provide documentation to get the vaccine.
Currently, the Latino community ranks as the lowest group in vaccination rates in the state of North Carolina. According to the latest North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services report, a total of 287,525 or 28% of Latinos have received at least one vaccine against the coronavirus in North Carolina, which has a Latino population of 1,026,000.
Wake, Mecklenburg, Forsyth, Guilford, and Durham counties currently have the highest numbers of the Latino population and make up 43.9% of the overall 287,525 vaccinated.
This July 8th, the NCDHHS released a statement urging all unvaccinated North Carolinians to get a COVID-19 vaccine due to the Delta variant's rapid spread throughout the state and a rise in hospitalizations and deaths. Since May, more than 99% of new cases in the state have occurred in people who are not fully vaccinated, a number that leaves a copious amount of Latinos currently exposed to the disease, and its new variant.
Juvencio Rocha-Peralta, Executive Director of AMEXCAN, the Mexican Association of North Carolina, explained that the low rate may be linked to distance from vaccination sites, although this is only one of the several factors that have influenced the low vaccination rates. “Eighty of North Carolina counties are rural,” which means that from “one small town to another is usually a long distance.” The distance becomes a disadvantage for members of the community who need to travel to access a COVID-19 vaccine center.
Other factors, Rocha-Peralta said, are the lack of knowledge about vaccination sites, the lack of time on workdays, and the fear and misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine. A way to deal with vaccine equity, explained Rocha-Peralta, is to “enforce local efforts,” in order to gain trust inside of the community.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Director of Hispanic/Latinx Policy and Strategy Yazmin Garcia Rico explained that supporting community groups and partnering with local organizations is one of the plans in the agenda to push for vaccinations in local communities.
“Healthier Together,” Garcia Rico explained, is a new public-private partnership with NC Counts Coalition that builds regional grassroots mobilizations strategies to “drive demand and increase access to vaccines to BIPOC.” Healthier Together provides grants to community organizations to push for vaccine equity and “supply, outreach, and provides transportation resources that people might need to be vaccinated.”
“We are making sure that trusted messengers are the ones helping us to give this information, research-based messaging, and developing specific messaging for different areas of the population,” said Garcia Rico.
She also explained that communities working together, local outreach, and community leaders have been essential in the fight for vaccine equity since trust is a priority for people in the community who want to get the vaccine. She highlighted that “It is very important to continue to do that person-to-person outreach and to continue to make sure that people have places in their communities where people feel comfortable.”
However, it is most important to address the different barriers. Trust is the foundation, but the Health Department is also addressing other hurdles to reach everyone that is ready to get vaccinated across the state, such as transportation and money. The $25 Summer Card initiative is one of them, which offers money at select vaccine sites to “offset the time and transportation costs of getting vaccinated.”
With the new Delta variant right now, the best bet is to urge people in the community to get vaccinated. Although regulations have softened in the state, the Health Department and local community leaders such as Rocha-Peralta still urge people to remember that we are in the middle of a pandemic and that we need to be aware of the dangers of not being vaccinated. “We need to take our precautions, get vaccinated, especially now with the new variant.”
This story was produced by a partnership between WFDD and La Noticia. You can read this story in Spanish at La Noticia.
Eileen Rodriguez is a reporter for both WFDD and La Noticia through Report for America, where she covers COVID-19's impact in the Latino Communities.
Periodista de La Noticia y 88.1 WFDD, Eileen Rodríguez reporta el impacto de COVID-19 en la comunidad Latina en Carolina del Norte. Rodríguez es miembro del cuerpo de periodistas de Report for America 2021-2022