When Taeyo Suarez received COVID-19 last year, he didn’t think he was going to get there.
The owner of the New Orleans barbershop was reluctant to get the shot, however, fearing the vaccine would make him sick again. But as cases began to spread with the more transmissible delta variant, devastating unvaccinated communities, he couldn’t bear the thought of his four children falling ill.
“I felt like I was on my deathbed. I thought it was the end for me and I had no health issues before,” said Suarez, 39.
So, last Tuesday, he rescheduled some of his customers at Kutt Kreatorz and received his first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at a pop-up event at an auto repair shop.
“It was the best decision to try to protect children as much as possible,” he said.
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Months after the start of the country’s unprecedented COVID-19 vaccination effort, disparities in immunization of underserved populations have been stark, with data showing whites being vaccinated at faster rates than blacks and Hispanics.
Experts say that could change, as fears mount amid the new wave of cases and grassroots vaccination efforts begin to bear fruit.
In the past two weeks, people of color have been vaccinated with a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine more than white people compared to their share of the population, according to the latest CDC data. Although information on race and ethnicity is only available for about 60% of the U.S. population, it looks promising, experts say.
While Hispanics and Latinos make up 17% of the nation’s population, they totaled more than a quarter of those who started immunizations in the past two weeks. Likewise, blacks, who make up about 12% of the U.S. population, made up 15% of those receiving a first dose.
During the same period, as new cases of COVID-19 increased in areas with low vaccination rates, whites were under-represented in the vaccine lineage. Of those who started their first dose, 44% were white, although the group represents 61% of the population.
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“What these patterns suggest is that there is a narrowing of racial gaps in immunizations nationwide,” said Samantha Artiga, vice president and director of the Racial Equity and Health Policy program at the Kaiser Family Foundation. . “This shrinkage may continue as the total number of vaccinations provided has increased in recent weeks.”
State-by-state analyzes, such as those from KFF, have consistently shown that whites were more likely than blacks and Hispanics to get the vaccine. But those gaps have slowly narrowed over time, Artiga said.
Public health experts and clinicians say this could be a signal that grassroots efforts by community groups have been successful and should continue.
“What we advocated at the start of our work is that vaccination campaigns really focus on geography. That they really focus on where the virus has been to really engage very locally with it. community organizations, with community leaders, ”said Dr. Kirsten-Bibbins. Domingo, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics and co-founder of the Center for Vulnerable Populations at the University of California at San Francisco.
“All of our field experience in communities as well as our digital modeling… has suggested that this is an approach that is definitely paying off.”
It worked for Jamel Godoy, 38, a recent immigrant from Venezuela. Godoy received his first dose at a vaccination event held on Saturday at the popular South American grocery store La Unica Super Center Internacional in Greenville, South Carolina, where nearly 10% of the population is Hispanic or Latino.
Three months ago, Godoy, who was suffering from obesity and had recently undergone gastric bypass surgery, fled to the United States because of political unrest in Venezuela, where COVID-19 vaccines are scarce.
“My uncle, a very close family member, died of COVID, and many close family members almost died from COVID,” Godoy said through a translator.
He heard about the vaccine event while taking his mother to a mobile health unit of Prisma Health and PASOs, a local Latin American health advocacy organization. He says the group was helpful to his mother, who moved to the United States three months before him.
Godoy is a housekeeper in a local hotel. Because many Latinos are overrepresented in essential jobs in the Greenville area, “things get a little more complex” to get the vaccine, said Rut Rivera, community health worker and program manager at PASO. Many work in services, food and agriculture, and the schedules make it difficult to leave work to get vaccinated. Rivera said that is why the groups are holding vaccination events on Saturdays.
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CommuniVax, a COVID-19 vaccine equity coalition with teams in five states – Maryland, Virginia, Alabama, Idaho and California – is working to improve vaccination campaigns among black and Latino populations.
Monica Schoch-Spanas, medical anthropologist and senior scientist at the Center for Health Security, is the co-chair of CommuniVax. She said the groups have been successful with partners and neighborhood leaders who have established paths and trust.
“You have community-led groups now playing a primary role in the community vaccine response,” said Schoch-Spanas. “The systems are improving. They are by no means perfect, but they improve and reach underserved populations better. “
Schoch-Spanas, who specializes in epidemics and public health emergency preparedness, said awareness of the highly contagious delta variant has also been a catalyst for vaccination, especially among those who have taken a “wait and see” approach. “.
“People will say, ‘Okay, what’s the risk of the vaccine versus the risk of the disease? “And now the scales are tipping,” she said. “You have that happy medium of vigilance. … We know from other types of disasters that environmental signals tell people that something needs to be done to protect themselves.
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Epidemiologist Myriam Torres is director of the Consortium for Latino Immigration Studies at the University of South Carolina. She said raising awareness of specific barriers for Hispanics and local effortslike those of PSOs to reach Spanish speakers in rural areas of his state have helped.
The staff are also powerful.
“It affects us more than groups that are more politically inclined to say no to the vaccine,” said Torres, who is Latina.
“Seeing our family members, our friends being affected by it, dying of it… people decide, ‘OK, I need the vaccine,’ Torres said.