Photo depicting a female- and Latina-presenting custodial worker seated on a bench and applauding while wearing a black surgical face mask.

Washington Latino Communities Still Lag in Vaccinations, Warns Researcher

by Sally James


Now is not the time to feel safe in regard to the threat of COVID-19, especially for Latino communities, warns physician Leo Morales, the leader of the Latino Center for Health at the University of Washington (UW). The group just released a policy statement based on vaccination numbers from around the state.

“The greatest risk we face now is to be complacent … We cannot rest until we have reached all unvaccinated and under-vaccinated Latinos in our state,” said Morales in a press statement about the policy brief. 

Health disparities that lead to a higher risk of hospitalization and death for Latino people, in comparison to white people, will likely continue, even as boosters and new shots for children ages 5 to 11 become available across the state. 

In an interview with the Emerald, Morales pointed out that health systems are inequitable and likely to remain that way even with new resources directed to combat this particular disease. “Many Latinos may have underlying conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, or liver disease,” he said. These conditions make people more vulnerable for a first infection with COVID-19 or for a breakthrough infection even if they are vaccinated. 

Morales also pointed out that many Latino families don’t have a pediatrician or go for regular health checks, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that pediatricians will be a major focus for getting vaccines out to the 5–11 age group. The Pfizer lower-dose vaccine was approved for this age group on Nov. 2. 

Georgetown resident Rosario-Maria Medina said she does not feel vaccines or testing have been available easily enough for Latino working people, especially those working two jobs. 

“We need testing sites more available to the working class, people in poverty, and for these services to be more accessible to non-English speakers,” she wrote in an email to the Emerald. Medina, who works as a part-time receptionist and runs a community engagement and event consulting company, is vaccinated herself but says she has extended family members who have not been able to get vaccinated because of their jobs. 

“We also need to provide resources and tools to help people get to these vaccine locations when they are not working,” she said.

In Washington, 54.6% of Latinos 12 years of age and older were fully vaccinated as of Sept. 29, up from 40.5% in July, according to the UW study. 

But Morales warned that this statewide figure does not reveal the nuance of certain counties with much lower percentages. Whitman County, for example, reported only 26% of Latino residents are fully vaccinated, according to the brief, while 62.9% of those in King County are. 

Statewide, the study estimated about 341,808 of the estimated 752,802 Latino people 12 and older in our state are partially vaccinated or unvaccinated. Now that vaccines for 5- to 11-year-olds are approved, about 156,000 children have been added to the list of those who are unvaccinated but eligible.

Community organizations are key in getting information out to marginalized groups. A recent symposium at UW focused on what has been learned during the pandemic about spreading vaccine information widely and accurately. A group called Confluence Health had success in Chelan, Douglas, and Okanogan counties by paying public health workers to travel door-to-door and attend events while sharing vaccination information, said Morales. 

The Latino Center for Health is also experimenting with social media messages aimed at younger Latino people, as well as influencers in specific geographic areas.

In an email response to questions about the disparity in vaccination for Latinos, the Washington Department of Health (DOH) pointed out that they recognize inequity and are working with community partners and health care providers, including those in Latino communities. 

“DOH has learned a lot from the adult vaccine rollout and is encouraging providers to have weekend and weeknight clinics to ensure vaccination needs are met for those who work unique hours or have multiple jobs,” wrote DOH spokesperson Shelby Anderson. 

DOH also pointed out some of the vaccine clinics may not have enough supply of the vaccine for ages 5 to 11 yet but that supplies will eventually catch up to demand. Families can use the State’s vaccine locator website to search for available vaccines near them.

Seattle Public Schools (SPS) has begun offering COVID-19 vaccines for ages 5 and up at individual schools. A complete schedule can be found on the SPS COVID Vaccine Clinics for Students 5–11 webpage. The City of Seattle has also opened new clinics and is vaccinating the younger children by appointment. Many pharmacies are also offering these shots.


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.

📸 Featured Image: An event sponsored by NREL’s Hispanic and Latinx Alliance, honoring the custodial staff for their outstanding work under the particularly demanding pandemic conditions of the past year. Photo is attributed to Dennis Schroeder/NREL (under a Creative Commons, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license).

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