Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic began, members of underrepresented and historically underserved communities have been disproportionately impacted by it, including members of the Hispanic and Latinx communities. While 18.5 percent of the U.S. population is Hispanic and Latinx, the community represents 26.9 percent of the COVID-19 cases in the United States. Reducing vaccine hesitancy in Hispanic and Latinx communities is key to reducing the number of COVID-19 cases in these communities.
Disparities in COVID-19 risk factors
Hispanic and Latinx communities have been at the forefront of confronting the COVID-19 pandemic from day one. Hispanic workers make up 10.6 percent of the workforce in pharmaceutical and medical manufacturing industries. In addition, members of the Hispanic community represent 13.6 percent of the workforce in medical equipment and supplies manufacturing. And in pharmacies and drug stores, Hispanic workers make up 13.7 percent of the workforce.
Members of Hispanic and Latinx communities also make up a large share of the healthcare workers in the United States. For example, 390,000 Hispanic health aides make up 17.1 percent of all health aides in the United States. In addition, 8.4 percent of all nurses in the United States are Hispanic, as well as close to 57,000 physicians and surgeons.
At the end of September 2021, 73 percent of Hispanic adults in the United States had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey. This is a 12 percent increase from July 2021.
Vaccination efforts must continue. Hispanic and Latinx people are 2.3 times as likely as non-Hispanic white people to die from COVID-19, and from 2019 to 2020, Hispanic Americans saw a major decrease in life expectancy by three years versus 2.9 years for Black Americans and 1.2 years for non-Hispanic white people.
Understanding vaccine hesitancy
But there is significant mistrust in vaccines within Hispanic and Latinx communities. A recent study by Oregon State University (OSU) seeks to understand precisely why. The study showed that one major fear regarding getting vaccinated was belief in the myth that getting vaccinated could cause sterilization.
Ultimately, addressing past historical traumas, such as forced sterilizations, is necessary to build trust in vaccines today. In addition, “Protecting the family should be at the center of promoting vaccines in communities that have collectivist values,” according to the author of the study, Jonathan Garcia, who is an associate professor in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences.
Local and state initiatives are key to increasing vaccination rates
A key method through which vaccine hesitancy is being confronted is by working with local community leaders. In Nashville, Tennessee, for example, the city’s Metro Public Health Department is working with community leaders to organize events to educate Hispanic and Latinx community members on getting vaccinated.
In Arizona, where 49 percent of white residents are vaccinated versus only 31 percent of Hispanic and Latinx residents, pop-up clinics and transportation to vaccination clinics have been essential to getting more people vaccinated but more must be done. Confronting disinformation which has been spread through social media and rumors by word of mouth has been very problematic. With that in mind, state health officials have created a vaccine equity task force to address this.
When contacted by BIO for comment regarding the importance of Hispanic residents getting vaccinated, a spokesman for the New Mexico Department of Health stated, “Vaccines have saved thousands of New Mexican lives – and they’ll play a key role in the months and years ahead.”
Greg Byrnes, Executive Director of BIO state affiliate, NMBio told BIO, “NMBio has appreciated and has been supportive of Governor Grisham’s leadership and that of the state’s Health Department throughout the COVID-19 outbreak. Their collaboration with the business community and the state’s health care institutions and organizations is responsible for New Mexico’s ability to keep the percentage of COVID cases well below the national average.”
An ongoing challenge
As COVID-19 continues to hospitalize and kill people, it is of the utmost importance that everyone get vaccinated. This is especially important in minority communities including the Hispanic and Latinx communities, which have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 from day one.
To learn more about the COVID-19 vaccines, visit covidvaccinefacts.org.
To learn about how to stop the spread of misinformation, visit stronger.org/resources.