NEWS

Are misinformation and language barriers the main causes of the vaccination gap in the Hispanic community?

AM analysts have been monitoring vaccine hesitancy among the Hispanic population in the United States. Although Hispanics have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and trail in national vaccination rates (29%) when compared to white populations (33%), findings suggest that many factors are contributing to vaccination gaps including:

  • Misinformation
  • Language barriers
  • Technological challenges
  • Lack of transportation
  • Mistrust in public health professionals

AM analysts have identified how a lack of access to reliable COVID-19 information resources and language barriers, and not hesitancy related to the vaccines themselves, are causing fewer Hispanics to roll up their sleeves to get the shot.

A recent poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) indicates that unvaccinated Hispanic adults are twice as likely as unvaccinated white adults to say they want to get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible. KFF also reported that vaccination rates among Hispanics increased by 1.4% between June 14-June 21; however, vaccine-related falsehoods and conspiracy theories also pose potential barriers for some Hispanics.

Maria Teresa Kumar, the president and chief executive officer (CEO) of Voto Latino, believes that overcoming vaccine disparities are key to ending the pandemic, a milestone that the United States has yet to reach.  She explains, “Misinformation is “twice as bad in Spanish” than in English.  Information in Spanish about the science and safety of vaccines is far less common than the misinformation shared online through encrypted social media networks like WhatsApp.” Even more troubling, Oscar Londoño, the executive director of WeCount!, a membership-based organization for immigrant workers in Homestead, Florida, revealed that Hispanics are relying on social media and word-of-mouth for information on vaccines, even when it is wrong. This news comes as a recent USA Today report found that Facebook failed to place warning labels on 70% of COVID-19-related misinformation targeted at the Hispanic community compared with 29% of misinformation targeted at English-speaking Americans.

Language barriers are also one reason why Hispanics remain uninformed.  According to an article published in the U.S. News and World Report, 25 million Spanish speakers are receiving about one-third less healthcare than other Americans.  Jessica Himmelstein, a research fellow at Harvard Medical School and physician at Cambridge Health Alliance, believes the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a heavy toll in the Hispanic community, especially among people with limited English proficiency.  She said, “The pandemic has been a magnifier of the failure of our healthcare system to meet the needs of patients facing language barriers.” In the article, Himmelstein’s colleagues, associate professor, Dr. Danny McCormick, stated that, “Too few doctors or nurses speak Spanish, and many hospitals and clinics have grossly inadequate interpretation and translation services, despite federal mandates requiring them.” “But most insurers won’t cover the costs of interpreters, and federal enforcement of the language mandates has been lax.”

Maria Peterson, a member of the group Vaccine Hunters, which helps seniors and people of color register for vaccine appointments in Maryland, found that too often, information about vaccine eligibility and registration is only readily available in English, and information in Spanish is sparse and unreliable.  According to Peterson, “Websites with poor Spanish translations, often resulting from an automated tool, can create confusion. The grammatical errors we found would have made it impossible for a Spanish speaker to figure out what was being asked.”  Even more alarming, The Washington Post reported that Maryland’s Spanish-language vaccine registration page initially used the word for “car race” in the section that asked people for their race, sex, and ethnicity. It was also discovered that because of a Google translate error, the Virginia Department of Health’s online Spanish-language FAQs section at one point falsely stated that vaccines were not necessary — when officials only meant to say that no one would be forced to get a shot.

The NY Times took a look at what’s behind the vaccination gap and uncovered startling information.  Vaccine clinic organizers reported that, with little information readily available in Spanish, older Hispanic members of their communities, many of them uninsured, were unaware that the vaccines are free for all and have expressed concern about the cost. “People didn’t even know that there was a vaccine when we talked to them,” said Gilda Pedraza, the executive director of the Latino Community Fund in Atlanta.  In late February, the organization called hundreds of older Hispanics to organize a vaccine clinic before the state health department posted eligibility information in the Spanish language.

These findings suggest that public health experts should take a deeper dive into the systemic issues that are contributing to the gap in vaccination rates among the Hispanic community.  They may also benefit from collaborating with organizations and trusted community leaders to produce COVID-19 health-related information for the Spanish-speaking population. As vaccination outreach efforts evolve, AM analysts will continue to track barriers and obstacles that are hindering vaccination uptake in communities of color. Stay tuned for information on Part 2 of our series, which will address how the lack of technology and transportation is keeping Hispanics from vaccination sites.

AM LLC is currently working nationwide with multiple states and public health agencies on testing, contact tracing, and vaccination programs. Counties, states, or K-12 partners that are interested in partnering with AM for COVID-19 mitigation support should contact Dr. Christopher K Orlea at c.orlea@amllc.co

 

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