Concerns over vaccine safety in the Hispanic community could slow rollout

Written by on February 12, 2021

Concerns over vaccine safety in the Hispanic community could slow rollout

By Genesis Ortega

February 15, 2021

Boxes containing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine are prepared to be shipped at the McKesson distribution center in Olive Branch, Miss., Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, Pool)

The vaccine rollout is underway, but that doesn’t mean everyone wants to get it. There’s increasing hesitancy in the Hispanic and Latino population about the vaccine’s safety according to recent polling by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

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That could complicate efforts to quell the virus in areas with large Latino communities like the Lehigh Valley. 

One way to get a feel for what kinds of conversations are happening in the local Hispanic community is to look up the Facebook group, “Latinos De Allentown”. 

There are more than 10,000 members, and posts range from things like which bodegas carry the best flan to more complex issues like whether to get the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Teresa Miranda is one of more than 100 people who replied to a Facebook post asking if anyone planned to get the vaccine once it was available. 

Teresa works in housekeeping at St. Luke’s University Health Network. She’s part of the team that cleans COVID-19 units. She wasn’t too sure about getting the vaccine at first.

“At first, I was scared, yeah I was scared and I said no. But I did it for my grandkids, for my family because I don’t want to get COVID-19. And I think about my family first, and I said forget it, I’m going to do it no matter what,” Miranda says. 

The recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that around 43 percent of Latinos said when it comes to the vaccine, they would “wait and see.” And 18 percent said they would definitely not get the vaccine.

“There’s hesitation around what the potential effects are, long-term effects, how has the vaccine moved so quickly into the market,” says Veronica Gonzalez with Lehigh Valley Health Network and Valley Health Partners.

“And I think those are appropriate questions, we’re living through a pandemic where none of us have lived through this so there’s a lot happening we’ve never seen before,” she says. 

And those questions and doubts can impact the timeline of getting things back to normal says Jennifer Janco, chief of Pediatrics at St. Luke’s.

“We need about seven to eight out of every 10 people to get the vaccine to get what’s called herd immunity. That means if enough people in the community have the vaccine, there’s no place for that virus to go,” Janco says.

Joseph Mosquera, an internist at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Newark, N.J., sees that lack of trust in his practice. Seventy percent of his patients identify as Hispanic or Latino. He says it stems from a long brewing uneasiness with the health care system as a whole. 

“And that mistrust sort of carries over to vaccines. A good example is the flu vaccine. Many Latinos disproportionately reject taking the flu vaccine. There’s real science of course behind these vaccines but many still stick to historic myths and sort of distrust for the healthcare community and we have to work on that,” he says. 

Mosquera says one way he’s dispelling patients’ fears is by speaking their language. Literally. 

“Although Hispanics make up to 20 percent of the total population of the United States, there’s only about  2-3 percent that are health care workers, nurses, doctors, paramedics, etc., and we simply need more bilingual Hispanics out there promoting correct information,” he says.

And that’s what Veronica Gonzalez of LVHN and Valley Health Partners is trying to do: health education.

“Some of our specific tactics right now include collaborating with Spanish media across the Lehigh Valley, identifying Latino and African American physicians who can provide culturally sensitive education, and then, of course, we’re partnering with community-based organizations,” Gonzalez says. 

But persuading people to get vaccinated might come down to personal relationships. Teresa Miranda, from the Facebook group, “Latinos De Allentown” says her family, friends, even co-workers, want to see how she reacts to the vaccine before they decide to do the same. 

“All my friends, they were watching me for the first one, and they saw I was ok, I had no symptoms, no nothing. But I got it, and I don’t have nothing. I feel the same,” Miranda says.

As health officials continue to roll out the vaccine, distrust isn’t the only issue they’ll need to tackle. In the conversation on Facebook, people say, when it comes to getting the vaccine, they’re also concerned about cost, access and language barriers.

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