Maria M. Diaz Montejo, Ph.D., lecturer, department of history and geography
Currently, John’s Hopkins estimates Covid-19 has taken 1 in every 500 Americans. These statistics do not consider the social, economic and cultural impact to communities throughout the United States. The development of a vaccine to combat this virus was the goal from the earliest signs of the potential deadliness of this virus. In the past year, there was a concerted effort to develop and distribute this vaccine rapidly and safely. During the height of the first wave of the pandemic during the initial lockdown, there was a general sentiment that the vaccine would be the tool to bring life back to normal. After the first testing of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and early distribution, the statistics seemed to indicate that the majority of the population would be fully vaccinated by this past summer. Early success and high numbers of vaccinations correlated with this promise; however, as the pandemic seemed to be waning this past spring, vaccination rates started to drop off rapidly. The question became, in the face of the deadliness of this disease, and the growing threat of the new delta variant of this disease, why were people not willing or hesitant to take the vaccine? Much of the hesitancy appeared to be the direct result of the politicization of Covid-19 and the vaccine itself by many in positions of power; however, studies showed that vaccine refusal and hesitancy were not the result of just politics[i]. Past anti-vaccination diatribes were adopted and utilized in the context of this new vaccine, from the “lack of vetting/inadequate research discourse” to the concern with “vaccine mandates” as attacks on personal freedoms/speech/body control by the government. These discourses are very socioeconomically and culturally specific, and do not apply equally nationwide, including among the Hispanic population. Currently, 41.7 percent of Latinos or Hispanics have received at least one dose, while 36.9 percent are fully vaccinated[ii]. Similarly, in Oklahoma only 36 percent of Hispanics or Latinos have had at least one dose of the vaccine[iii]. These rates are dependent on various factors, including social, economic (immigrant/migrant and economic/educational status) and other cultural/religious factors that are very specific to this diverse population. This can be defined in terms of vaccine hesitancy, but also in terms of the barriers these populations face that are different from other ethnic populations in the United States.
When faced with the diversity of the Hispanic population, we must adjust our thinking to look at both factors affecting vaccine hesitancy and those that are barriers that may be tied in to hesitancy, but may be separate and require specific interventions to address. For example, among first generation migrants, much of the discourse on vaccines may be influenced by their own experience with vaccines as children, concerns of migrant status and the submission to government entities that may cause them concern for being deported or singled out, their experiences with other government mandates in their home country and the United States, and/or their religious views. A general distrust in medicine as a science that has historically used minorities as test subjects also presents as an obstacle for people of color, including Latinos and Hispanics, for getting vaccinated[iv]. Among poorer Latino and Hispanic populations there is also a tendency toward the cultural value of resilience or aguantar, the belief that one is capable and should bear as much as possible to overcome daily struggles and extends to illness and pain that can lead to financial ruin or stress from medical bills. Barriers extend beyond individual beliefs, much of it may be logistical. Much of this population works in the service industry where they work long hours and the ability to take off to get a vaccine and concern for being sick post-vaccination would cause the potential for income loss[v]. This income loss can mean the difference between eating and having enough money for rent for the month. All of these factors may work together to create resistance among a community to the vaccine, even as they realize and many have been directly affected by Covid-19 as many family and community members have been lost to this virus. Overall, we need to realize that there is not one factor that must be addressed to overcome this hesitancy/barrier to vaccination. In order to increase the vaccination rate among the entire population in the United States will require taking into account the differences in the ethnic and cultural backgrounds among this diverse population.
[i]Sobo, E, Schow, D, McClure, S “US Black and Latino communities often have low vaccination rates -but blaming vaccine hesitancy missed the mark”, July 7, 2021, accessed September 19, 2021, https://theconversation.com/us-black-and-latino-communities-often-have-low-vaccination-rates-but-blaming-vaccine-hesitancy-misses-the-mark-163169.
[ii] Center for Disease Control and Prevention Demographic Vaccination Trends: Percent of People Receiving COVID-19 Vaccine by Race/Ethnicity and Date Reported to CDC, United States, data as of September 19, 2021, accessed September 19, 2021, https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#vaccination-demographics-trends.
[iii] Ndugga, N, Hill, L, Artiga S, “Latest Data on COVID-19 Vaccinations by Race/Ethnicity”, KFF.org, September 9,2021, accessed September 19, 2021, https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/latest-data-on-covid-19-vaccinations-race-ethnicity/.
[iv] Kricorian, K, Turner, K, “COVID-19 Vaccine Acceptance and Beliefs among Black and Hispanic Americans”, PLoS One 16(8): e0256122. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0256122, accessed September 19, 2021.
[v] Sobo, E, Schow, D, McClure, S “US Black and Latino communities often have low vaccination rates -but blaming vaccine hesitancy missed the mark”, July 7, 2021, accessed September 19, 2021, https://theconversation.com/us-black-and-latino-communities-often-have-low-vaccination-rates-but-blaming-vaccine-hesitancy-misses-the-mark-163169.
<p><img class=”wp-image-3305″ style=”width: 150px;” src=”http://blogs.uco.edu/thebronchobeat/wp-content/uploads/sites/99/2021/11/David-von-Minden.jpg” alt=”David von Minden, Ph.D.” align=”left” hspace=”25″> A simple question often asked is, “What is it?” Throughout the day, the question can easily arise and lead to any number of simple responses. That same question to a chemist, however, can be much more complex. Chemists turn to science and trusted instruments in order to identify exactly what something is – or what it could become.</p>