Looking for ways to improve vaccination numbers among NC’s Latinos

North Carolina news

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — With Latino and Hispanic people in North Carolina remaining underrepresented in the state’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout, community leaders want to meet with state officials to discuss ways to improve those numbers.

Less than 3 percent of the first doses given so far have gone to members of a group that makes up nearly 10 percent of the state’s population of nearly 10.5 million, according to state Department of Health and Human Services figures Monday.

DHHS has made vaccine equity a priority during the process, and it has shown for some groups that have seen significant progress. For example, Black people have received 16 percent of first doses administered, up from 12 percent on Feb. 7 and 10 percent a month before that.

But the increase among Latinos and Hispanics has been marginal at best: The latest update shows they received 2.9 percent of first doses, compared to 2.3 percent on Feb. 7.

Only 4.7 percent of Hispanic people in the state have had their first dose, and 2.2 percent are fully inoculated. The pandemic has hit the Latino community disproportionately hard, with that group accounting for 21 percent of cases and 8 percent of deaths.

“It’s very complex,” said Ivan Kohar Parra, the executive director of the North Carolina Congress of Latino Organizations. “There’s a number of factors playing into the situation, and the result is what we have in the state.”

Parra wants to meet with state leaders including Dr. Mandy Cohen, the NCDHHS secretary, “so we can begin to address the disparities together, and develop a plan that is long term.”

Part of the issue so far has to do with age: The Latino population skews younger than the rest of the state, with a median age of 24.8 according to the most recent figures from the University of North Carolina’s Carolina Population Center from 2018. That’s far younger than the median age of 38.9 overall.

And older people — both in nursing homes, and those older than 65 years old — had a higher priority in the earliest phases of the rollout. 

But with the vaccine becoming more widely available to younger people as groups including frontline essential workers become eligible, that should change soon, said Eliazar Posada of El Centro Hispano.

“As we move into essential workers, our number of people eligible, a number of organizations working to ensure that we have everything, that we have equitable access for Hispanic and Latinos, that’s going up,” Posada said.

There are some specific challenges unique to the Latino community, leaders said, including a distrust of the government — rooted in immigration-related rhetoric — along with widespread misinformation on social media and the language barrier.

A survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation in January found Hispanic adults (37 percent) are significantly more likely than whites (26 percent) to say they prefer to “wait and see” before getting vaccinated, though that share has declined since December while the percentage that want the vaccine “as soon as possible” has grown to 42 percent.

“One that is very important but is also overlooked is the lack of capacity of the agencies to have bilingual personnel and really reach the Latino community,” Parra said.

Parra says the solution involves enlisting help from two trusted organizations — churches and schools.

“If you ask members of the community who are the most influential people that they trust, they are either the priest or the teacher,” Parra said. “And we should be engaging those institutions more.”

CBS 17’s Joedy McCreary has been tracking COVID-19 figures since March 2020, compiling data from federal, state, and local sources to deliver a clear snapshot of what the coronavirus situation looks like now and what it could look like in the future.

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