Latinos surpass non-Latinos in COVID-19 vaccination in Pa., but devil’s in the details

Written by on September 27, 2021

Latinos surpass non-Latinos in COVID-19 vaccination in Pa., but devil’s in the details

With more than half the state’s Latino population jabbed, the numbers mark a milestone but also come with caveats.

By Anthony Orozco / WITF

September 27, 2021

FILE – In this March 26, 2021, file photo a member of the Philadelphia Fire Department prepares a dose of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination site setup in Philadelphia. U.S. health officials say Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine may pose a “small possible risk” of a potentially dangerous neurological reaction. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday, July 12 that it has received reports of 100 people who got the shot developing an immune system disorder that can causes muscle weakness and occasionally paralysis. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, health experts and community leaders have warned about the racial and economic disparities amplified by the coronavirus.

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But efforts to reach minority communities in Pennsylvania, particularly Latinos, have shown some efficacy. In recent days, state data on vaccination rates show little more than half — 51.2 percent — of Latinos outside of Philadelphia have gotten at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Latinos lead by a thin margin when compared to all non-Latinos, 47.9 percent of which have gotten a shot. Some 44 percent of Latinos are fully covered, edging out their non-Latino counterparts, who are at 43.9 percent.

The data is segregated from Philadelphia’s, which has its own health department.The city reports nearly three-fourths of its Latinos have been vaccinated.

Reaching 50 percent of Latinos was made possible by intentional directed community efforts, according to Dr. Diego Chaves-Gnecco.

“We take people on a walk-in basis. We’re vaccinating adults without health insurance, without appointments, and in their same language, in Spanish,” said Chaves-Gnecco, a Pittsburgh area pediatrician.  “We also are not requiring any type of documentation.”

Chaves-Gnecco, an associate pediatrics professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, has helped in University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s vaccination efforts, while teaming up with Latino nonprofit Casa San Jose and the Allegheny County Health Department. Many other vaccination pushes around the state have similarly removed barriers to make the COVID-19 shots more accessible in recent months.

He said having culturally and linguistically competent volunteers and staff at events has helped make Latinos more comfortable, especially those who may have concerns about costs or their immigration status.

When vaccines became more widely available, health networks, nonprofits, state and county health departments conducted outreach efforts in Latino and immigrant communities.

The state has been utilizing the CATE mobile testing and vaccination unit in cities across the commonwealth. The mobile unit has also given out shots in industries where Latinos make up a substantial part of the workforce, such as in agriculture.

“In fact, we are working with minority news organizations throughout the state to offer interviews and insight to help message vaccination information to these targeted populations,” said  Maggie Barton, a state Department of Health spokesperson. “Throughout these efforts, we recognize it is critical for us to meet people where they are and trusted messengers such as local leaders will be critical to shifting attitudes.”

The community leaders and organizations have shared their own experiences with the vaccine on social media to normalize inoculation.

Last year, Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration invested a $3.8 million Center for Disease Control and Prevention grant, to focus on marginalized communities, using bilingual television and radio announcements.

Many of the initiatives were spurred by far-reaching health and social disparities that were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Coronavirus hospitalizations of Black and Latino people are nearly three times more likely than White people. Black and Latinos are two times more likely to die from the disease.

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