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Unavailability of the COVID-19 Vaccine to Minority Communities Drives Low Immunization Rates, Health Advocates Say

Analysis  |  By Carol Davis  
   April 09, 2021

'It's not necessarily that they don't want it, but they just can't get it,' says a leader of the Hispanic nurse association.

Minority communities are significantly behind in getting COVID-19 vaccines because of unavailability, say advocates on the front lines of vaccination efforts.

Fear and lack of trust are other reasons for disproportionate vaccine rates, they say.

"It's really more about convenience, not that individuals do not want to take it," says Linda Carper, an ambassador for the National Institute of Health's All of Us Research Program, an initiative to build one of the most diverse health databases in history. "The individuals that I know that are African Americans—young, old, middle age—we want to take the vaccine."

Her church, Greater First Baptist Church, located in the Houston, Texas, suburb of Independence Heights, an historic Black municipality, was looking to serve as a vaccination site, but received approval for one day only, and then only for residents of a particular ZIP code, she says.

"What about the rest of the week or the following week?" she says.

"It's about availability … in the communities that have transportation issues or where people are not able to get to the information through social media, because not everybody does social media," Carper says. "You have to make it available to the community."

April is National Minority Health Month, and this year, the HHS Office of Minority Health (OMH) is focusing on the disproportionate impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on racial and ethnic minorities.

This year’s theme for National Minority Health Month is #VaccineReady to underscore the need for these vulnerable communities to get immunized as more vaccines become available.

"These are groups of people that have such high rates of morbidity and mortality related to COVID-19, and they're the ones that we really need to get the information out about immunizations and get them immunized," says Norma Cuellar, past president of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses (NAHN).

As of April 8, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control reported that race/ethnicity was known for slightly more than half (55%) of people who had received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine. Of this group, nearly two thirds were White (65%), 11% were Hispanic, 8% were Black, 5% were Asian, 1% were American Indian or Alaska Native, and less than 1% were Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander,

'It's not necessarily that they don't want it'

Fear—of the vaccine and of drawing attention to themselves—and inadequate messaging are among "several" reasons Latinos are not getting vaccinated, Cuellar says.

"There's a lack of feeling safe, that if they go to any of these facilities … there's going to be issues related to immigration status," she says. "We can educate and tell people a million times that we won't ask for immigration status but there's still a big fear factor that they will be identified and that ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) will come and pick them up and they'll have ramifications from that."

Vaccine public service announcements by radio, internet or television have been inadequate in general, Cuellar says, which means most Latino communities get their information—which may not be accurate—from friends and family.

"With the amount of [COVID] deaths in their communities, one thing is the fear of COVID in general, and many don't understand that they can't get COVID from getting an immunization, so specific information to groups is very important," she says. "How we get that message out in a safe, comforting way that taking vaccine is better for us is not necessarily getting out to the public."

Overcoming obstacles to accurate vaccine education is fundamental to getting Latinos and other minority communities immunized, Cuellar says.

"When you have barriers like language, education, socio-economic status, and healthcare access, it's just difficult to get the shot," she says. "It's not necessarily that they don't want it, but they just can't get it."

In a national health crisis that continues to claim more than 1,000 lives each week, according to latest figures from the CDC, getting the vaccine into as many arms as possible, as quickly as possible, is vital, health advocates say.

"[As to] why it seems so disproportionate," Carper says, "that is a question that those who distribute the vaccine and made the decision about where and who would get the vaccine will have to answer."

“[As to] why it seems so disproportionate, that is a question that those who distribute the vaccine and made the decision about where and who would get the vaccine will have to answer.”

Carol Davis is the Nursing Editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

Many minorities want the vaccine; they just don't have access to it, health advocates say.

Language, education, socio-economic status, and healthcare access are among barriers to vaccinating Latinos.

April is National Minority Health Month and its theme, #VaccineReady, underscores the need for vulnerable communities to get immunized.


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