Vaccination rates for Latinos in San Diego surpass most other ethnic groups
About six months ago, health and community advocates in San Diego sounded the alarm bells in the face of soaring rates of coronavirus infections in largely Latin American neighborhoods, especially in the South County.
Hoping to stem the spread of COVID-19, authorities and community groups have sent neighborhood representatives door-to-door to educate residents on wearing masks, testing and finally vaccines.
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Now there are signs that their efforts are paying off. Vaccination rates show Latinos in San Diego County are over-represented among those fully vaccinated against COVID-19 compared to most racial or ethnic groups.
About 68% of Latinos in eligible age groups were fully immunized last week, according to county statistics, compared to about 66% of Asians, 59% of white residents and 42% of blacks in San Diego.
This is a reversal from earlier this year, when COVID-19 fire was first fired. As of March, Latinos made up nearly half of the county’s residents who were sickened by the new coronavirus, but barely accounted for 1 in 5 people vaccinated at the time.
Today, infection rates among Latinos remain twice as high as among blacks in San Diego and about three times as high as white and Asian residents, according to county figures.
Many Latinos are at greater risk, experts say, because they have essential jobs that don’t allow remote working. Lack of access to health care and housing that forces many family members to live together also increases the risk of exposure.
County-wide high vaccination averages for Latinos obscure regional realities. Latin American vaccination rates are above 87% in South County, but they are lagging behind in parts of the North and East County, the data shows.
The turnaround in South County is the result of months of focused efforts to educate families about vaccines, address their concerns and facilitate the immunization process, advocates said.
The Latino Health Coalition, a group of nonprofit organizations, used culturally relevant messages on radio and television to talk about the virus, often in Spanish, and featured trusted community leaders in videos for them. social networks.
It also distributed face masks, hand sanitizer and thermometers in South County, Barrio Logan and City Heights, where many residents held essential jobs that did not allow them to work from home.
The coalition has also advocated for the location of test sites in these areas and worked with the county to book vaccination appointments for people who live in postcodes hardest hit by COVID-19.
Health officials have also targeted their awareness where COVID-19 infections are on the rise, said Barbara Jimenez, community operations manager for the County Health and Human Services Agency.
“The data was guiding where these (vaccination) efforts were,” Jimenez said. “When you look at the data, you are able to prioritize communities with higher positivity rates. “
On a recent Wednesday, two volunteers from the Latino Health Coalition roamed Spring Valley for nearly two hours, knocking on doors and telling people on the streets about available resources and the vaccine.
Sandra Mendoza, Special Projects Manager for the Chicano Federation, said this type of outreach has been successful because it allows residents to connect with messengers and it’s conversational and informative, not judgmental or authority.
No one is forcing them to do something they may not yet understand, she said.
The promoters, who are usually trustworthy and non-medical people, use various forays to discuss vaccinations and COVID-19 in neighborhoods.
Miriam Rodriguez, director of promoters for the City Heights Community Development Corporation, said her team members set up tables at exchange meetings, community centers and food distribution sites. They are handing out masks, gloves and hand sanitizer and talking about the COVID shots.
“We would have our pop-ups and be there with resources, so it was easier for our families to come in and get their questions answered and get help with their dates,” he said. said Rodriguez.
Initially, the slow acceptance of COVID-19 injections stemmed from concerns about personal safety, as well as logistical hurdles, such as making an appointment online. Health workers had to tackle both.
“The myths had to do with the vaccine’s effectiveness, whether there were any side effects, the concern that it was too new, the concern that it was rushed and the myth that it was made. with dangerous chemicals and toxins, ”Jimenez said. “These are things that we were able to address through the promoters and in the media. “
Promotoras held Zoom meetings, or virtual “cafecitos,” where residents could ask questions and hear from community members who had recently received COVID-19 injections, Rodriguez said.
Beyond vaccine hesitancy, there were practical obstacles. When the COVID-19 vaccine rollout began, there were vaccine “super stations” with convoluted online registration systems and often hours of queues.
Eventually, health authorities set up smaller clinics in community centers, high schools, parks and markets. They offered after-hours shots to people who couldn’t make it during the working day, and opened walk-in centers that removed scheduling barriers.
“At first when you had to make an appointment it was really difficult, otherwise the system wouldn’t work,” Rodriguez said. “Once we got the dates it really helped. “
Promotoras offered walks to families they worked with or looked after young children while parents were getting vaccinated, she said.
San Diego County vaccination percentages are unclear for certain segments of the population – such as those labeled “other / multiple race” and people listed as “Native Hawaiian / Pacific Islander” – as the county lists more people. vaccinated in these categories than those listed in the population estimates of these categories. Population counts are estimates based on census data.
Overall, however, San Diego County exceeded national and national averages for immunization; 71% of San Diegans aged 12 and over are fully vaccinated, compared to less than 70% for California and 65% nationally.
Assembly member Akilah Weber D-La Mesa said progress has come from partnering with community organizations and trusted messengers.
Yet some demographic groups and geographic areas are lagging behind. Across the county, less than 50 percent of Black San Diegans are fully immunized.
This is in part due to mistrust, resulting from historical incidents where black men with syphilis have been deliberately left untreated, blacks have been medically sterilized, or some have been discriminated against, neglected or abused by medical professionals, experts said.
“Particularly in the black community there is a lot of resistance because of the things that have been done, the experiences that have been given to people in our community,” said Weber, who is a doctor. overcome this.
Plus, she said, there are few black doctors in San Diego County, and there aren’t many community health advocates comparable to the promoters.
Black churches, which are often centers of community organizing, did not have their typical attendance during the pandemic, she said.
To address this hesitation, she and her fellow doctors are reaching out to black audiences in online forums and other places.
“It’s just going to take more time, more education, for some people to come around, and that’s what we’re going to do,” she said.
Among Latinos in Interior and Coastal North County and East County, less than 60 percent of those eligible for vaccines have received them. Nancy Maldonado, CEO of the Chicano Federation, said the groups are focusing on geographic areas where vaccination rates continue to be low.
“We recognize that there is a lot of work to be done, and a lot of it is the same as we do in the south of the county,” said Maldonado.
Residents of the northern and eastern counties have asked the volunteers for more information and awareness, she said.
“We are going where the need is,” she said.
The Vista Community Clinic recently launched individual outreach efforts to reach more North County residents. A mobile bus goes to churches, parks and community resources.
The clinic is also partnering with local groups and school districts to target populations with low immunization counts, including black residents, said Herminia Ramirez, program manager at the Vista Community Clinic.
“Consistency and using a trusted messaging approach to our work has been crucial as we were able to be very intentionally in the community,” said Ramirez.
County health officials have scheduled 130 immunization and testing awareness events in North County since June, and are disseminating information material to Spanish-language media. They are making similar efforts in East County and have launched programs focused on immunizing young people.