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Why Many Latinos Are Wary Of Getting The COVID-19 Vaccine

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

New data from the CDC this month continues to show the disproportionate impact the pandemic is having on certain communities. Those numbers show that Latinos are being hospitalized at almost four times the rate of whites. Polling has also shown that Latinos are less likely to trust a vaccine. So why is that? I spoke with Dr. Eva Galvez. She's a family physician at Virginia Memorial Health Center in Hillsboro, Ore. Most of her patients are first and second-generation Latinos.

EVA GALVEZ: There continues to be just a lack of accurate information available to the community about the vaccine. So in other words, information that we are reading in different media platforms is often not in a language or at a literacy level that my patients can understand. So definitely this leads to many questions and also leads to much misinformation. What often happens is when people don't have access to accurate information, they rely on other platforms, word of mouth, social media, and those are often not accurate. And we have seen anti-immigrant rhetoric. We've seen anti-immigrant policies. And there's just mistrust, I think, of the federal government. And so when you have what they perceive as a federal government trying to bring a vaccine to the community, naturally there is some mistrust, and there is fear.

MARTIN: Do you see that fear and distrust across the board, or is it more acute among undocumented immigrants?

GALVEZ: We have a lot of mixed-status families, so even families who maybe have the documents to be in this country, they're worried about grandma or aunt or uncle or Mom and Dad who don't have documents. So, really, this fear is being seen whether or not people have legal status.

MARTIN: Is there a particular anecdote you can share, a conversation you've had with someone who was honest about those fears or concerns?

GALVEZ: Yeah, absolutely. It was a family who came in to get care for their children. And so the visit really was not a visit for Mom and Dad. But Mom asked me if the vaccine was safe, and she had heard some information on a social media platform that the vaccine had long-term side effects and that the vaccine was actually risky. And then she asked me, how can you ensure that this vaccine is safe? And then what I told her was that we had done very many studies, and it had gone through a rigorous process and that, based on my reading, that it was safe. And what I conveyed to her was that all vaccines have side effects, but that the risks of the side effects generally are less than the benefits of getting the vaccine. And that was how we ended up leaving the conversation. So she didn't tell me that she was going to get the vaccine, but she certainly seemed open to the vaccine. And so it's really fighting two battles here. One is trying to convince people that the vaccine is safe and that it is important, but at the same time is also trying to rectify all of those messages that they have been getting from other sources. So these conversations really do take time.

MARTIN: So in addition to these one-on-one interactions like you just described, what's your broader prescription? I mean, does there just need to be a massive amount of money put into a public education campaign and a Spanish-language public education campaign?

GALVEZ: We definitely do need media campaigns that are providing information that is at an appropriate literacy level, appropriate language. But I don't think it's only about education. I think that we really need to begin to also show our community, the Latino community, that we care. So we need to begin to gain trust by action. We have been bearing the brunt of infections. And we know now that much of that disparity is being driven by working conditions that don't provide us with the protections that we need to be safe, you know, low wages, which forces us to live in multigenerational housing. So we know systemic inequities that are driving this disparity. Again, it does come through media campaigns but also through policies that protect our families and that keep us safe.

MARTIN: Dr. Eva Galvez is a family physician at Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center in Hillsboro, Ore. Thank you so much for your time.

GALVEZ: Thank you so much, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.