By Edwin Flores May 18, 2021
SANTA ANA, CA- Hispanics are among one of the groups who have endured the brunt of the pandemic in Orange County. Despite accounting for almost 35% of OC’s population, they now face vaccine disparities in comparison to other groups.
Latino Health Access, a nonprofit organization based in Santa Ana, is now maximizing local efforts and resources to tighten the vaccine gap by holding their own vaccination clinics and informing residents about the vaccine with the help of volunteer community workers known as promotores.
Tackling and understanding the vaccine disparity
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the already existing inequities in health, many of them come as a result of systemic racism. Systemic racism is appropriating resources, opportunities, wealth, and other advantages in favor of White people to keep minorities, especially Black people, systematically challenged.
In this case, OC Health Care Agency’s most recent data reveals that Hispanics have received 8.5% of the vaccine despite being the second largest ethnic group in the county. They account for almost 47% of all confirmed cases, and 38% of all COVID-19 related deaths.
In comparison, White people are the most populous at about 39%, have been vaccinated at 20.5%, and account for almost 25% of cases. Asian/Pacific Islanders makeup almost 22% of the population, account for 12% of cases, and 21% of deaths.
Such vaccine disparity within the Hispanic community is the result of several key factors. However, none more important than the lack of healthcare access itself.
Dr. Gloria Giraldo, is a Latino Health Access COVID-19 Education & Field Coordinator, who’s been following the impact the pandemic has had on Hispanics since the start. She says the lack of healthcare access is a historically recurring issue.
“We’ve historically had a much lower insurance coverage rates simply meaning that our families who work, who are very hardworking, and working lower earning occupations, have found it incredibly difficult to afford health insurance.”
In fact, Hispanics have the highest uninsured rates of any racial or ethnic group within the the U.S., according to the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health. A 2019 Census Bureau report also states that 50.1% of Hispanics had private insurance coverage, almost 25% less than non-Hispanic whites at 74.7%.
Differences like these prevail in economics. In 2019, full-time year-round Hispanics/Latinos earned a median household income of $55,658. Meanwhile, the median household income for non-Hispanic white households was $71,644. Hispanics also had a higher unemployment rate and lived eight points higher at the poverty level than non-Hispanic whites.
“In the U.S. system, lacking health insurance very much means lacking health care.”Dr. Gloria Giraldo, Latino Health Access COVID-19 Education & Field Coordinator
Other social determinants of health are the types of low paying jobs Hispanics typically work without any additional benefits including paid sick time. As a result, economic pressures lead to the prioritization of work over health.
“When the pandemic hits, one of the mechanisms through which you access information about the vaccine, access [to] the vaccine itself, testing, even before the vaccine was available, is through having a regular source of care.”
On the frontlines of fear and disinformation
Since the start of the pandemic, Latino Health Access volunteer community workers known as promotores, have had to adapt to the needs of the organization by focusing on informing, addressing, and answering questions about the virus. Now that anyone above the age of 16 is eligible to receive the vaccine, they’re urging local residents to sign up for their dose.
Carlos Pantoja is an outspoken promotor who frequently interacts with the Latino community. But when it comes to the vaccine, it’s difficult to get the message across.
“The Latino community has had a hard time understanding the importance of the vaccine,” Carlos said. “It is the only way we are going to get back to normalcy that we are all vaccinated. And we do everything possible because people don’t understand the message, this is something important, it’s not a flu, it’s life.”
The process to register for a vaccine appointment is free and easy. Promotores help people register. Then, the Latino Health Access COVID-19 Call Center will call individuals to gather more information. Within the span of a couple of minutes, that person will receive their appointment date, time, and location. The only requirement is a form of identification.
However, not all interactions lead to a successful registration.
Socorro Juárez has had encounters with hesitant people who are afraid of the vaccine. In some cases, they are even allergic. But others don’t have faith in the vaccine due to religious ties.
“There are others who tell us that ‘I believe in God’s vaccine,’ he’s the only one who will save me, he is the only one who can help me,” Socorro said.
The group is still successful in registering hundreds of people to receive the vaccine. Localized efforts like the ones at the Santa Ana Swap Mall are making the difference to those who can’t afford to take the time off work.
For Eugenio Diaz, a Santa Ana resident, being able to register for the vaccine while doing his daily activities is a welcome opportunity.
“There’s no opportunity and then you get off work late and all that. And now here it is going to be available this afternoon, it is very good.”
The importance of getting vaccinated
Santa Ana has been one of the hardest-hit cities by the virus in OC. Latino Health Access partnered up with MemorialCare to administer vaccinations. Four individuals who got their dose voiced their stories in hopes to inspire and encourage others who might be feel hesitant about the vaccine.
With CA setting it’s sights for a fully re-opened economy mid-June, receiving the vaccine now for Santa Ana artist, Yenny Bernal, is a sign that she might be able to enjoy this summer and the rest of the year in good health.
“Honestly coming here, I was really, really nervous,” Yenny said. “The ambience and the love that they give just made me ready for this vaccine. The doctor that saw me was amazing, she explained a lot of things.”
“I think a lot of our fellow Latino friends and family members maybe they just don’t know how accessible it is right now. It doesn’t matter whether you’re documented or undocumented, if you want to be protected from COVID, you can get a vaccine.”
Carmen Sanchez, 55, traveled from Anaheim, another city hit-hard by the virus, to receive her vaccination. She endured severe symptoms when she got infected with the virus. She spent almost three weeks alone in her home fighting the virus. Family members stopped by to drop off groceries and goods.
“I was afraid of COVID, I was anxious about the vaccine,” Carmen said. “God knows what would happen to me if I got infected again because it was very hard for me.”
“The shot didn’t sting, I already got COVID, I have faith in God that the vaccine will help me more, it will protect me more.”
For more information or to register for your vaccination appointment please contact the Latino Health Access COVID-19 Call Center at 714-805-7838.