Medical workers in Southern California fight to bridge the Latino COVID-19 vaccination gap

Health care workers in California’s predominantly Latino neighborhoods are fighting to close the vaccination gap in their community. Meanwhile, concerns grow over the continued low vax rates among Latinos in the state.

Video Transcript

- Concerns are growing over the continued low vaccination rates among Latino residents in California. According to California health officials, 65% of the state's residents are fully vaccinated. But among the Latino community, that number is much smaller.

ILAN SHAPIRO: If we do not learn right now, creating better health care for our communities, and we do not address social determinants of health and equity and equality, this thing will happen again, and again, and again.

- In Orange County, Latinos are the second largest demographic group but have the lowest vaccination rate. Just 48% of Latino residents have had at least one dose, compared with 69% of Black residents, 70% of white residents, 73% of Native American residents, and more than 90% of Asian-American residents. In Los Angeles County, that number looks similar as they do across California.

Dr. Ilan Shapiro, a Latino Health care provider in Orange County, says, there are several contributing factors behind the low rates. The number one being that many Latinos say, they can't afford it.

ILAN SHAPIRO: It's the same cycle again and again and again. It's actually losing a day of work. That it's not that our community is living paycheck to paycheck. They live day by day. If they do not go to their jobs that day, they don't get paid. And that means that there's no food for the table.

- Dr. Shapiro says his efforts to close the gap involve in-person outreach, meeting with families at community events to help answer any questions or fears they may have about the vaccine. Latino Health Access, a nonprofit group in Santa Anna, has been working on COVID-19 outreach since the start of the pandemic. The organization has helped administer vaccination through mobile clinics in predominantly Latino neighborhoods partnering with local health care agencies.

LORETA RUIZ: A target that we're trying to approach are people who have small or no access to services, that have not seen a doctor, or people who have two or three jobs, minimum wage or less, people who are monolingual, people who do not have access to technology or do not know how to use technology. And they have all these barriers that just keep adding to get access to the vaccine.

- Ruiz says, one of their most effective strategies is sending volunteers or "promotores", which in English translates to promoters into communities most affected by COVID-19. The community workers engage with residents on a more personal level, becoming a trusted source of information in areas that have been plagued by misinformation.

ILAN SHAPIRO: The issue is that you have misinformation in English and you have misinformation in Spanish. It's not that our community will go one day to Fox and actually double check with CNN and figure out which room is actually better. We're living day to day, and there's not a lot of times to process information. At the end of the day, my job is to give them the opportunity of information and at least clear out any misinformation.

- Two years into the pandemic and nearly one year since vaccines became available, politicians on the state level have failed to provide the basic needs for Latinos to fight COVID-19. All the while, health care providers, like Ruiz, are fighting for communities access to the vaccine.

LORETA RUIZ: Not having people vaccinated will not stop the virus and having our people affected and the people who cannot afford working from home, the people who have to be in the front lines. And these are our people. These are our Latinos. These are the people that keep this economy and have not missed one day of work since the pandemic started.

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