Article: COVID-19 Vaccinations in Latinx Communities

States are striving to distribute more COVID-19 vaccines to communities of color, as concern escalates over racial inequities in vaccine distribution. State-level data show a racial disparity, with Black and Latinx people obtaining fewer COVID-19 vaccinations than their white counterparts, despite their higher risks of contracting COVID-19.

However, our understanding of disparities is seriously limited by the lack of information on the race/ethnicity of the people receiving the vaccination. For example, CDC data on vaccines received by 12,928,749 persons in the United States between December 14, 2020–January 14, 2021 identified sex and age for more than 95% percent of the recipients, but identified race/ethnicity for less than 52% (1). Clearly, more needs to be done to identify who is not receiving the vaccines. Once we understand the scope of this problem, strenuous efforts much be made to provide sufficient outreach to ensure efficient and equitable administration of the vaccine. This might be done by outreaching hard hit communities and offering to do the vaccination in their communities, as some doctors have done in Chelsea and East Boston.

Some of the disparity can be explained by vaccine hesitancy. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll from January 2021 found that the willingness of the US population to get vaccinated against COVID-19 has increased to 41% since a poll in December 2020, which showed this to be only 34% (2).

But there’s still hesitancy, with more than half of Latinx adults in no rush to get vaccinated, and instead waiting to see what happens to other vaccinated people before deciding what to do themselves. In particular, 45% of younger Latinx adults would prefer to “wait and see” before getting the COVID-19 vaccine. As about three in four Latinx adults in the U.S. are under the age of 55, these younger Latinxs will be a key group for vaccination outreach efforts. 

Many people, including Latinx adults, face barriers to getting vaccinated, such as lack of health insurance or a usual source of medical care, lack of information about the vaccine being cost-free, and logistical barriers such as limited transportation or limited language proficiency. Some are concerned about getting a vaccine because it involves sharing personal information with the federal government. Younger Latinx adults, in particular, may need to be reassured about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine, and are probably more receptive than older populations to information that highlights how getting vaccinated may be the right choice for them to make to protect themselves, their families and get their lives back to normal. 

One promising way to address concerns that communities of color may have about the vaccine is to partner with trusted community voices to promote forums in which individuals can share perspectives and information as well as validate and respond to concerns. Although hearing about the benefits of vaccination from doctors is helpful, it may also alleviate concerns and provide relief to hear from people from in their own community who have decided to get vaccinated. Those who want to help disseminate vaccinations need to listen in order to comprehend how we can help our communities feel that we have their best interests at heart.  

Margarita Alegria, PhD
Chief, MGH Mongan Institute Disparities Research Unit
Garry G. Lehnert, Jr. and Lucille F. Cyr Lehnert Endowed MGH Research Institute Chair
Professor in the Departments of Medicine and Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School

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