Experts say that the Latino community owns the second-lowest rate of Covid-19 vaccination among ethnic/racial groups in California.
Dr. Ilan Shapiro, Director of Medical Education and Wellness at AltaMed, attributes the low rates to social barriers, misinformation online and on social media, and the results contribute to the fact that infection and death rates suffered by Latinos is alarming compared to other groups. For instance, to date the number of Asians and Blacks who have been infected this year are 164,630 and 134,684, respectively, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Health. In comparison, 1,227,228 Latinos have been reported as infected as of early April.
“There was a war on communication,” Shapiro said. “There was a war of active misinformation.”
Approximately, 66% of Latinx people in the county have received at least one dose, compared to about 88% of Asians, 78% of white persons, and 60% of Black persons, county health department data shows.
Despite the pandemic’s inordinate impact on Latinx lives, and the mounting scientific data showing vaccine effectiveness against the virus, many in the community have yet to take the shot.
Shapiro says that the disparity is what compels him to be the face behind an outreach campaign called ¡Ándale! ¿Qué esperas? (Come on! Why wait?). Born and raised in Mexico City, his team hosts vaccination events throughout Los Angeles to provide factual medical information in an accessible way to community members while also, as Shapiro says, “vaccinating our community against fear with a dose of truth.”
- Why do you think the Latinx community doesn’t have higher vaccination rates?
Right now, we’re seeing the numbers going down and the urgency in the community and in the world going down a little bit more. This reflects everyone, not just the part that is happening with Latinos, but with what is happening around the world. So, unfortunately, as right now we are in a dismissive period. I don’t think it’s just a Latino thing, I don’t think it’s just a Hispanic part or part of our communities. But it’s a moment where, on the contrary, we have to create more communication to get the remaining 30% vaccinated. Right now, we are on vacation from Covid-19, the virus is not hidden. Right now the virus is giving us a moment to breathe, but we are already seeing that in China and in Europe it is coming back.
- The Latinx community has consistently been the most affected community with the most Covid-19 deaths in the county, why don’t you think the community gets scared of these numbers?
I don’t think it’s the lack of fear, as much as it’s that people in the community are working two or three jobs, using public transport and have directly suffered the economic consequences of these problems. We’re aware of what’s happening, but when a booster shot is recommended, it means a lot of inconvenience for people with this process. They have to notify their jobs, make appointments for the entire family, miss work and school. From what I’ve seen, people do want to get vaccinated, but are tired of having to repeat this time-consuming process.
- There seems to be a pattern as well with Latinxs who are anti-vaxx also being religious and believing the vaccines are made with aborted fetuses. Have you or any of your colleagues heard these questions or concerns from your patients?
Yes, that’s our pan de cada dia (a daily part of the job). The complete reality is that there are many, many things that are out there and a problem with multiple levels of misinformation. We just have to remember to not share the misinformation on social media.
- The Latinx community is also known for trusting holistic methods and natural remedies to combat illnesses. From caldos, to teas and even rituals, they seem to try those methods before getting medical attention. Do you think it’s a cultural norm to trust homemade remedies instead of immediately seeing a doctor ?
We must remember that the majority of our community is the community with the least health insurance. The least insured in the United States. So it sounds romantic to say what we always say, ‘Talk to your doctor,’ but where? When? Who? The community wants to survive and wants to give the best to their family. They want to protect them. And what happens? Well, they go looking for answers on the internet. And that’s the real problem.
- Do you think lack of access to Spanish-speaking doctors or Latinx doctors causes some of the community to not feel comfortable with requesting information from medical professionals?
Yes. Yes. We are like 6% of doctors for 20% of the population of the United States. So, logically, there are not enough doctors who know the culture, who understand the language. Even if they don’t understand the language, they should understand the culture. So who ends up being unprotected? Well, our community.
- How is your ¡Andale! ¿Qué esperas? (Come on! Why wait?) campaign helping ease Latinx community concerns about the vaccine and fight misinformation online?
We create conversations, we have a telephone line that one can call or WhatsApp on the website, and we want people to go and ask us questions. We are making a series every week, about Covid-19, with updates. It’s on AltaMed’s Facebook page. We’re also putting effort to be present in the community. It is impossible for us to be everywhere, but at least we are fighting to clarify fears. We are going to community events, we have been organizing with MX League soccer games, we have been to the Chivas game, America and Atlas games, to be able to create full awareness of what is happening. What is the idea of health? You look for the doctor when you need it. We’re doing the opposite. We want to be there when they don’t need us yet, we want to first inform the community. If they need us in the community, if they need us in their homes, through the phone, or whatever it takes, to make it easier.
- Can you give more insight on the type of concerns the community tends to have about the virus and what are usually the causes behind those concerns?
Many people asked me if this virus is against Hispanics or genetics or whatever, because the reality is based on problems of social determinants of health. And that is the saddest part of the world. There are decades of problems; that we didn’t have a doctor, that we didn’t understand so many other things that were giving us health problems and right now we are carrying all those things. And that is the problem that we are having, that at the moment that we do not have a doctor, a clinic, a place, a trust with someone who can help us. That is where the problem comes from and we also add the problem of diabetes, the problem of hypertension and all those things that translates to our community having more cases. We have cases, because we are exposed and we are going from one place to the other, we are working, we’re on public transport, we are exposed and more because of the jobs that we are doing. So when we have all these things and we add the headaches of the community and add the factor of a pandemic, well, it is the perfect combination so that we have more complications and more problems.