Low vaccination rates among Latinos in the U.S. are caused by lack of access, not “vaccine hesitancy”

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The term “vaccine hesitancy” has become a term that experts say does not reflect people’s lived experiences or lack of access to the proper information and resources — which can cause minorities concern over receiving the vaccine. The World Health Organization defines hesitancy as a “delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccines despite availability,” while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines the term as those who respond in surveys that they would “probably not” or “definitely not” get the vaccine.

A survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation from May, found that “Large shares of Hispanic adults – particularly those with lower incomes, the uninsured, and those who are potentially undocumented – express concerns that reflect access-related barriers to vaccination.” The results of this survey showed that Latinos were worried about missing work for experiencing vaccine side effects.

Due to economic and social disparities, communities of color experience increased financial challenges due to not being able to afford sick leave or health insurance. According to KFF research, over 25% of Black and Hispanic people are low-wage essential workers, compared to less than 17% of white people, putting them at higher risk of exposure to the virus and job loss. According to a study by the University of California Berkeley’s Othering and Belonging Institute, Latino adults who are raised in integrated neighborhoods earn $844 more per year and $5,000 more when raised in white neighborhoods, compared to Latinos raised in highly segregated communities of color.

Even though the vaccine is available for free, the survey also showed that Latinos worry of not being able to find a trusted place to get the vaccine, not being able to afford the price for the vaccine, or of having difficulty traveling to a vaccination site.

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A group of senators — all of whom identify as Latino — recently sent a letter to the Biden administration, calling for an improvement in access to Covid-19 vaccines in Latino communities. In the letter, the four senators mentioned, “Specifically, we ask that you work with employers and health care providers to clarify sick leave policies related to vaccine side effects.”

The Democratic Senators Alex Padilla (CA), Catherine Cortez Masto (NV), Bob Menendez (NJ) and Ben Ray Luján (NM), called attention to how Latinos are 1.3 times more likely to contract Covid-19, 3.1 times more likely to be hospitalized, and 2.3 times more likely to die from infection with the virus. The senators also emphasized that, “Latinos continue to trail in vaccination rates, which is not solely explained by vaccine hesitancy, rather, there are very real systemic barriers like lack of access to vaccination sites and poor information availability on their eligibility for a vaccine.”

The spread of vaccine misinformation and lack of correct information has led to more than half of Latino families being concerned if getting the vaccine would require them to provide information that could affect their immigration status or of the status of a family member. Data from the KFF survey additionally showed that 56% of Hispanic adults who have been vaccinated said they were asked to provide a government-issued identification and that 15% say they were asked to provide a Social Security number.

The senators added, “We urge the Departments of Health and Human Services and Labor to work together creatively and proactively to allocate additional resources to ensure correct and timely information is reaching Latino communities.” They continued, “Including clarification that confidential information about immigration status will not be revealed and assurance that vaccination is free.”

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Communities of color have also gone through experiences in history that have given them reasons to become reluctant or lack trust. Between 1932 and 1940, the Tuskegee Syphilis Study was conducted in Alabama, where Black men with syphilis were withheld from treatment so doctors could study them. 600 Black men were told by researchers that they would be treated for “bad blood” and were offered free medical exams, free meals, and burial insurance in exchange for participating in the study. Similarly to the mid 1940’s, when the U.S. Public Health Service conducted experiments in Guatemala, in which they used sex workers to expose prisoners in Guatemalan jails with sexually transmitted diseases. Another example was the Puerto Rico Pill Trials in the 1950’s, when Puerto Rican women who lived in low-income communities with a poor education system, were given experimental birth control pills without being told that they were being used for a clinical trial.

The survey findings reinforced the disproportionate health and economic impacts of the pandemic for minorities in the country. As of June 2021, the CDC reported that race/ethnicity was known for 57% of people who had received at least one dose of the vaccine. Additional CDC demographic data show that about 45.2% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19. President Biden’s administration has put an emphasis on equity, especially when it comes to vaccine distribution. His vaccine plan since then has been focusing on providing proper resources to underrepresented communities and families of low-income, as well as immigrants.

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Victoria Gonzalez is a U.S. correspondent for Eat News who covers a variety of topics about the entertainment world and politics.

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Eat News is a Taiwanese digital media, analyzes current events and issues through column articles, videos, visual aid, and exclusive interviews.

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