‘A success story’: After slow start, here’s how vaccine rates for NC’s Latinos improved drastically

Coronavirus

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Latinos in North Carolina in nearly every age group are getting the COVID-19 vaccines at a higher rate than everyone else.

And with kids between 5 and 11 now able to get the shots, another spike in those vaccination numbers could be on the way.

It’s a massive turnaround for a group that just seven months ago had one of the lowest rates among minorities.

“It’s a success story from a multi-sector group,” said Dr. Viviana Martinez-Bianchi, a family physician at Duke Health and one of the founders of LATIN-19, a group that focuses on the pandemic’s impact on Latinos.

Back in March, only about 3 percent of all vaccine doses went to the group that makes up about 10 percent of the state’s population.

But now, Latinos are outperforming everyone else in five of the age groups tracked by the state Department of Health and Human Services — and are tied in a sixth, according to Friday’s update.

(Source: NCDHHS)

For example, 70 percent of Latinos between the ages of 25 and 49 have had at least one dose, compared to 50 percent of non-Latinos. And 96 percent of Latinos between 65 and 74 have had one shot — the highest rate among any racial or ethnic subgroup on the state’s dashboard.

State figures show 83 percent of both Latinos and non-Latinos over the age of 75 are partially vaccinated.

(Source: NCDHHS)

Overall, the numbers showed Latinos have pulled even with non-Latinos with 50 percent of the total populations of both groups getting at least one dose.

So what’s worked?

Fiorella Horna of El Centro Hispano credits a number of factors — from a significant financial investment “to make sure that we were reaching the hardest-to-reach communities,” to having plenty of community health workers involved in outreach to eliminate the obstacles they face, to a coalition of public health and community organization groups along with hospitals.

“A lot of the barriers that traditionally challenge our communities, whether it’s language access or having all these forms of identification or having insurance or having transportation,” Horna said. “All of that was eliminated through these collaborations.”

Martinez-Bianchi says it also helped that everyone — from doctors to Spanish-speaking media to religious figures in a largely Catholic community — were on board with the vaccination effort.

“People are hearing the same consistent message,” she said.

Other groups with lagging vaccine rates could draw a few lessons from what’s worked so well among Latinos — drawing on a sense of community, and trusted members of that community, to persuade holdouts.

“There has actually been a big part that I think is reproducible in any community,” Martinez-Bianchi said, adding that one key is “listening with humility.”

And another boom could be on the way now that kids between 5 and 11 can get the shots.

A big chunk — 15 percent — of the Latino population falls in that age group, compared to just 8 percent for everyone else, and if they turn out at vaccine clinics and pediatricians’ offices at the same rate as older people, those numbers could shoot even higher.

“We’re expecting that we’re going to see that increase,” Martinez-Bianchi said.

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