LOS ANGELES — Latino healthcare workers in California’s Latino-dominated neighborhoods are fighting to close the COVID-19 vaccination gap in their community.
“If we don’t learn now and create better health care for our communities, and if we don’t address the social determinants of health, equity and equality, it will happen again and again. again,” said Dr. Ilan Shapiro, medical director. to Alta Medbased in Orange County, told Yahoo News.
According to Los Angeles Department of Health, nearly 68% of eligible county residents are fully immunized. Meanwhile, the number of fully vaccinated Latinos countywide is smaller — 55%, compared to 52% black residents, 71% white residents, 70% Native American residents and 79% Asian American residents.
As the Hypercontagious variant of Omicron is tearing up regions of the United States, the science is overwhelming that vaccinations offer the best chance, by far, of avoiding serious consequences like hospitalization and death. California hospitals, already strained by this spike in cases, are further hampered by staffing shortages caused by workers who tested positive.
In Orange Countywhere Shapiro works, Latinos are the second-largest demographic but have the lowest vaccination rates: 48% of Latino residents have received at least one dose, compared to 69% of black residents and 70% of white residents.
Health professionals seeking to improve Latin American vaccination rates face multiple hurdles. One of the most basic is economic.
Although the vaccine itself is freely available to the public, many working-class people struggle to find time off to both get the shot and then potentially spend a day recovering from its effects.
“It’s the same cycle over and over and over again,” Shapiro said. “It’s actually losing a day of work, it’s not that our community isn’t living off a paycheck; they live day to day. If they don’t show up for work that day, they don’t get paid. This means there is no food for the table.
Loreta Ruiz, who is part of the COVID-19 response team for Latino Health Access, worked on the front lines to get more Latinos vaccinated. She tries to help people overcome not only economic obstacles, but also informational obstacles.
“The target we are trying to reach are people who have little or no access to health services, those who have not seen a doctor, people who have two or three jobs. Those who earn minimum wage, people who are monolingual. People who don’t have access to technology or don’t know how to use technology, and they have all these barriers that keep adding up to get access to the vaccine,” Ruiz said.
One way to reduce barriers to vaccination is to make injections more physically accessible. Ruiz said his organization, based in the predominantly Latino town of Santa Ana, Calif., has partnered with local health agencies to deliver vaccines through mobile clinics.
Ruiz also said one of Latino Health Access’s most effective strategies is sending volunteers to communities hardest hit by the coronavirus. This model, ‘Promotores’ (or ‘Promoters’ in English), allows volunteers to engage with residents on a more personal level, becoming a trusted source of information for them. Ruiz said having volunteers from the communities they work with is crucial, especially when tackling medical misinformation.
“The problem is you have the wrong information in English and you have the wrong information in Spanish,” Shapiro said. “It’s not like our community will ever go to Fox and double-check with CNN and figure out what news is actually correct. We live hand to mouth and there’s a lot of information to process. Ultimately, my job is to give them the opportunity to get information and at least eliminate any misinformation.
The inequities of not vaccinating Latino immigrants, many of whom are undocumented, reflect a number of complex issues, Ruiz said, including a historic lack of medical resources in underserved communities and lack of trust in government records. . All of this is compounded by even fewer workplace protections for undocumented people.
“You will see nowadays that people still don’t miss work to get vaccinated or to go to the doctor. Employers will not allow them and many people will take [the hit] because they are afraid of losing their jobs,” Ruiz said.
Shapiro told Yahoo News that with the latest spike in Omicron cases, he’s seeing more and more local Latinos visiting his clinic to get vaccinated. Ruiz said that while there was still a lot of work to do, she had hope for the future.
Ruiz also stressed that vaccinating more people, regardless of the cause of their initial hesitation, is necessary for better health outcomes.
“The people who can’t afford to work from home, the people who have to be on the front lines, these are our people, these are Latinos,” she said. “The people who keep America’s economy running and who haven’t missed a single day of work since the pandemic began.”