by Sally James
Latino communities remain at higher risk of COVID-19 infection because of lagging vaccination rates, according to a new policy brief released by the University of Washington’s Latino Center for Health (LCH). The new numbers show that only 35% of Latinos are fully vaccinated in the state, with 6% partially vaccinated.
“With the growing threat of the COVID-19 Delta variant in our region, it is imperative that we vaccinate as many Latinos as possible before the fall when schools reopen and cooler temperatures will drive infection rates higher,” said physician Leo Morales, the co-director of LCH and author of the policy brief, in a press release. Another brief LCH released a few months ago suggests that a lack of access to the vaccine as well as vaccine hesitancy are some of the biggest factors affecting Latino communities. Although a majority of those surveyed had positive views on the vaccine, many expressed concerns around side effects and safety, cost, and effectiveness.
Nina Martinez, the board chair of the Latino Civic Alliance of Washington, called the latest numbers an emergency. In an interview with the Emerald, Martinez said money has to come directly to community organizations like hers in order to reach neighborhoods with door-to-door vaccine campaigns.
“We’ve been blowing the horn at the state level,” she said. Still, she is frustrated that some resources require what she calls burdensome red tape. “The State needs to get out of the way” and dispense federal money for pandemic relief more quickly, she said. Martinez is part of a newly formed coalition of organizations called Latinos Unidos for Vaccinations.
Morales also urges state lawmakers to spend more money on community outreach organizations for Latino populations. In an email exchange with the Emerald, he said he did not have any specific number for what it might cost to reach the unvaccinated across the state.
The State responded in an email to some of this criticism with a statement outlining work that is being done. “While we are proud of the progress that has been made, we know our work is far from over,” wrote spokesman Shelby Anderson. “[The Washington State Department of Health] DOH is working closely to support community partners and local health jurisdictions (LHJs) to increase vaccine access for communities across the state.”
The message included a list of some of the outreach. Among other efforts, the State has created:
- Care-a-Van, which helps ensure the DOH reduces barriers for those who want to receive a COVID-19 vaccine by bringing mobile vaccine clinics to them
- Vaccination pop-up clinics in conjunction with community groups to reach rural Latino populations
- A partnership with VillageReach to support LHJs with COVID-19 vaccinations
All of this is especially vital because of the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 has had on Latino communities. Over the course of the pandemic, people who identify as Hispanic or Latino have been hit harder than many others by infections and deaths. As of June 15, nearly one-third (29%) of all COVID-19 cases were among Latinos, even though Latinos only account for 13% of the state’s population. Counties with the largest numbers of unvaccinated Latinos right now include King (120,226), Yakima (82,916), Pierce (71,379), Snohomish (58,440), and Franklin (40,084) counties.
Martinez hopes the new numbers from the LCH will help raise the alarm on the lives at risk. She stresses that in King County, an estimated 120,000 Latinos are still not vaccinated; this is far too many.
“It is not enough,” she said of existing efforts at nonprofit health clinics. She imagines pop-up vaccine clinics in hard-hit neighborhoods on evenings and weekends, when essential workers may be better able to attend. She says there should be streamlining to make it easier for community organizations to get money for the kind of door-to-door outreach that can encourage more people to get vaccinated.
Sally James is a science writer in Seattle. You can read more of her work at www.seattlesciencewriter.com. She’s written about biotech, cancer research, and health literacy and volunteered as president of the nonprofit Northwest Science Writers Association.
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