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UNM Researcher Addresses Vaccine Concerns Among Latinos

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Recent surveys show that the U.S. Latino population is skeptical and mistrusts the COVID-19 vaccine, with nearly 30% saying they are unlikely to get it. University of New Mexico Political Science professor and Director of the UNM Center for Social Policy Gabriel Sanchez co-authored a study published by the Brookings Institution last month that digs deeper into this data. The report highlights the historical roots of this fear, and makes recommendations for community-specific outreach efforts that could increase equity in vaccine distribution. Dr. Sanchez spoke with KUNM’s Nash Jones about the report and why some Latinos said they are reluctant to get the vaccine. 

GABRIEL SANCHEZ: A couple of the biggest categories we saw is the potential for negative long term health effects, at 79%. One of the others is concern about whether or not it'll be effective. Sixty-eight percent of respondents, for example, indicated, 'hey, I'm not planning on taking it because it's not clear to me: Is it even going to work?' One positive is there was a lot of concern with not trusting the Trump administration, 61%. So, that hopefully will just naturally improve the way Latinos perceive the trust in the administration. But, keep in mind, people in our communities don't naturally trust the government, particularly for immigrant communities, and Latinos in mixed status families. Here in New Mexico, I've actually heard from a lot of our service providing organizations that a lot of the immigrants that they service indicate they're worried about maybe being asked about their citizenship status when they get vaccinated.

KUNM: And something crucial to recognize when we talk about a community as broad and diverse as "Latino" is that it's not a monolithic group. So, what are some of the differences between various Latino communities when it comes to resistance to getting vaccinated?

SANCHEZ: One of the things that jumped out of all of the data we've been tracking: Latinas have been much more concerned about everything across the board when it comes to COVID-19. And in fact, a third of Latinas in the survey that we draw from indicated that they don't plan on getting the vaccine. That's significantly higher than Latino males. Another one is national origin. When we're talking about millions of Latinos across the country, there's variation – Puerto Rico, Mexico, etcetera. We see significant differences. For example, Puerto Rican- and Mexican-origin population are the two groups that report the highest level of concern and the least likely to get vaccinated. Unfortunately for us, right, when you look at the Puerto Rican- of Mexican-origin population, they represent the majority of Latinos that live in the United States.

KUNM: These responses, they don't appear in a vacuum, right? What is some of the context for this concern and mistrust?

SANCHEZ: Unfortunately, a lot of communities of color, immigrant communities [and] Spanish speaking communities have reasons to fear the medical industry. You know, everything from mistreatment in terms of clinical trials towards Latino population, medical malpractice directed towards communities of color, and really sensitive topics like forced sterilization of Puerto Rican- and Mexican-origin women. So, when we're asking people to put their trust in the federal government, put their trust in the medical system, for a lot of Latino communities that's a very difficult thing to do, because they've got concrete reasons to be fearful or skeptical.

KUNM: On top of this, we're also seeing systemic disparities in how COVID-19 is spreading, including for communities of color. What does that look like in the Latino community, specifically?

SANCHEZ: Within the last couple of months, you're seeing an explosion of inequalities in terms of positive cases, hospitalization rates. The data in California shows that although Latinos  were being disproportionately impacted up to the last couple of months, it skyrocketed. And so I think that's something that we have to be cognizant of. If Latinos are being disproportionately impacted, maybe we need to prioritize access to the vaccine for particular communities.

KUNM: You’ve made recommendations for what should be done to increase vaccine uptake in the Latino community nationally. Can you talk about the strategies you put forward and why they would make a difference?

SANCHEZ: We need more and better data. Other really obvious recommendation is most states, including New Mexico, are relying pretty extensively on online signups. large segments of the population in New Mexico, particularly from communities of color, don't have stable access to the internet at home. So, if you're asking folks not only to sign up online, but regularly check, immediately you're going to have inequalities. So, that's something we can do a better job at, right? Providing access. Whether it's old school telephone or paper, equality and access doesn't just mean doing all of this digitally.

KUNM: Are there other strategies that you would like to see happen here specifically in New Mexico?

SANCHEZ: Yeah, I think almost everything that applies nationally fits New Mexico but just multiplied – given our demographics, given the high rural nature of the state. And really, when we think about access to stable internet and high-speed internet, New Mexico is one of the weakest in the country in terms of equality and access to those points.

Nash Jones (they/them) is a general assignment reporter in the KUNM newsroom and the local host of NPR's All Things Considered (weekdays on KUNM, 5-7 p.m. MT). You can reach them at nashjones@kunm.org or on Twitter @nashjonesradio.
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