The vaccination campaign targeting Hispanics in North Carolina is advancing steadily among the community’s adult population, but much at a slower pace among children and adolescents.
According to official data from the Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS), 75% of Hispanics over the age of 18 in North Carolina have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 70% are fully vaccinated.
These figures are noticeably higher compared to the non-Hispanic population’s 60% vaccination rate with at least one dose and 57% fully vaccinated.
The trend, on the other hand, is the opposite for the child population, among children between 5 and 11 years old, only 8% of them are fully vaccinated in North Carolina, while the figure rises to 14% for non-Hispanic children.
Vaccination campaigns targeting Hispanic adults’ keys to success
Many factors have contributed to the Hispanic community getting vaccinated at a higher rate compared to other communities.
"We have worked hard, and this achievement has been possible thanks to collaboration," Yazmín García Rico, director of Policy and Strategy for Latinos and Hispanics of the NCDHHS, told Enlace Latino NC.
For García Rico, one of the main keys to their success has been "a focus on equity to vaccinate historically marginalized populations, including the Hispanic communities."
Covid-19’s impact disparities
The NCDHHS released a document in October of 2021 acknowledging that "longstanding racial and ethnic injustices contribute to disparities in the impact of Covid-19 among historically marginalized populations."
At the beginning of the pandemic, Latinos suffered 44% of COVID-19 cases, for a population that represents just 10% of the state's total population. The vaccination campaign’s focus on equity, among other factors, has contributed to reversing that trend.
Currently, with a record of more than 28,000 daily cases, North Carolina is experiencing the highest number of Covid-19 infections up to date.
However, thanks to the vaccination campaign, the death rate among Hispanics has decreased steadily since September of 2021.
Health promoters, a key factor
When explaining the successful vaccination rates for Hispanics in North Carolina, García Rico emphasized the expansion of the health promoter program.
The initiative initially reached only 55 counties, then it expanded to reach every corner of the state.
“The health promoters have been essential for the vaccination campaign because they are from the communities and are trusted,” said García Rico.
“Our job has been to push people to get vaccinated, to show them why they should get vaccinated, why it is important that everyone think not only of themselves but also of their families and children,” Luis Amézquita, a health promoter in the Community Health Department of the Hispanic Center, told Enlace Latino NC.
The reasons that pushed Hispanics to get vaccinated
According to Amézquita, as soon as the vaccination campaign began, it was difficult to convince the Hispanic population of the importance of getting the vaccine.
But as new and more contagious variants emerged, the suffering of loved ones and the requirement to present vaccination proof at various institutions, also contributed to the immunization within the Latino community.
"Many Hispanic folks had a direct family member, a friend or a co-worker who got sick with Covid-19 and had to be hospitalized," Amézquita explained.
"Most of them felt the need to be vaccinated after seeing the severity of the disease," he added.
In addition, Amézquita mentioned, others did so because they were practically forced to at their "jobs, schools, or other institutions, or to travel abroad."
In addition, García Rico mentioned economic incentives.
"At the end of the summer, there was an incentive program that offered $25 and $100 gift cards, which also helped increase vaccination."
“It functioned as a compensation for missing work hours to get vaccinated. Or the cost of getting to a vaccination center if they asked someone else to take them. And the driver could also get a gift card to offset the cost of gas," he said.
📌 Percentage of people over 18 years of age who are fully vaccinated
In this context of growing demand from the Hispanic population to get the vaccines, it was essential to guarantee access to the available shots.
“When Delta hit the hardest, in the summer, vaccination went up a lot for the Latino community. At that time, it was essential to facilitate access for when people made the decision to get vaccinated,” said García Rico.
As part of the equity approach, NCDHHS directed vaccine providers to serve historically underserved communities and to administer a proportional number of shots to what this population represented.
Also, all vaccine providers were required to collect information on race and ethnicity.
In addition, as the director of Policy and Strategy for Latinos and Hispanics of the NCDHHS pointed out, regional teams were established through alliances with community organizations to support areas considered to be a "priority."
“We focused on the areas in greatest need. We have analyzed, for example, communities with different vulnerability factors to see which areas needed more vaccines. So, we knew which were the counties in which we had to put more effort.”
That information was visualized into a map that shows places in North Carolina with the highest rates of social vulnerability and the lowest vaccination rates.
The importance of communication
Hand in hand with health promoters’ work, the NCDHHS emphasized the importance of earning communities’ trust.
To achieve this, they implemented an articulated strategy with "trusted messengers" (often the promoters themselves) to share information on vaccines.
In this sense, García Rico affirms that the implementation of their communication policy in Spanish language has been crucial, to disseminate educational materials in languages other than English, via radio and television announcements, newspaper advertisements, virtual events, and even text messages.
The dark side: unvaccinated Hispanics
Despite these efforts, many Hispanic residents in North Carolina are not vaccinated yet.
Considering the total Hispanic population, the percentage of vaccinated with at least one shot is 55%. That is, 45% of Hispanics have not received the first dose.
That figure includes, however, children up to 4 years old, who are not yet eligible for the vaccine, and, according to NCDHHS data, they represent 11% of Hispanics in the state.
📌 Percentage of people over 18 years of age vaccinated with at least one dose
Due to his role as a health promoter, Amézquita is used to talking with Latinos who refuse to get vaccinated despite scientific evidence that demonstrates vaccines’ high effectiveness in preventing severe infections and deaths.
“In general, they say that they do not want to get the shot because they distrust the government and the vaccine,” Amézquita said.
In addition, the health promoter was especially concerned about the spread of fake news among the population.
“They also bring up myths like that (the vaccine) would insert a chip in their bodies to surveil them, or that they would become aliens. Unbelievable things that people believe in.
Another reason mentioned by Hispanics who do not want to be vaccinated is religion.
"Many people have told me that they don't get vaccinated because of their beliefs," he said.
“And that has been a very difficult aspect for us as promoters to overcome, trying to convince them that you have to get vaccinated regardless of religion,” he added.
On the other hand, there is a small group of Hispanic residents who received the first shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines and then did not return to complete the scheme.
According to the NCDHHS, there are 5% of Hispanics did not return after the first shot.
"Today, from the 30 people we attended, there were about 8 who told me that they had gotten the first shot but never went to get the second one," Amézquita said.
He heard varied reasons for this: some people moved out of an apartment or city and missed the appointment for the second shot that they had forgotten, or that they did not know where to get it.
However, for the health promoter, the real reasons may be different: “I have a very personal explanation and it has to do with the fact that many people were, quote and quote, forced to take the first shot because of their work or because they had to travel. So, they did it because it was required and then they didn't come back."
For García Rico, another factor that may have prevented certain people from getting their second shot was the side effects.
Although he emphasized that these are "normal and even desired symptoms because it means that the vaccine is working in our body to generate protection in case we are in contact with the virus."
In this sense, the specialist insisted that full vaccination is essential to avoid hospitalizations and deaths.
“We know that the virus has affected many families, deaths that could have been prevented through vaccination. We must get through the full vaccination process.”
Child vaccination: another remaining debt
The data on vaccination rates among Hispanics in North Carolina by age groups shows both some encouraging results for certain population sectors and worrying signs for others.
Hispanic adults ages 65 to 74, for example, are 96% fully vaccinated. With a similar percentage, 83% of adults older than 75 years are vaccinated.
The picture is quite different for children and adolescents. As for Hispanic children between 5 and 11 years old, full vaccination is only at an 8% rate. Fully vaccinated Hispanic adolescents represent 44%.
📌 Percentage of children between 5-12 years old who are fully vaccinated
"Fear and Mistrust"
However, vaccination for children ages 5 to 11 was only approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in early November.
So, the experts we reached out to are confident that more Hispanic parents will make the decision to vaccinate their children in the coming weeks.
“We have been talking to parents and the words we hear again and again are fear and mistrust. They do not want their children to test a vaccine they do not trust,” Amézquita explained.
As the health promoter highlights, most parents who do not want to vaccinate their children are not vaccinated themselves.
On the other hand, parents who are vaccinated, usually get their children vaccinated too.
Vaccines are more accepted in urban counties than in rural areas
Getting agricultural workers vaccinated was one of NCDHHS’s main goals, according to Yazmín García Rico.
“We have done everything we can through the Farmworker Health Program – from offering vaccinations the very moment they arrive in North Carolina from visiting the farms, to bringing them information or offering them vaccines at their workplaces.”
However, the trend is that Hispanics living in urban counties have higher vaccination rates than those living in rural areas.
● In Durham, for example, 66% of Hispanics have been vaccinated.
● Mecklenburg, 60%
● Wake, 59%.
● In the rest of the counties considered urban (Forsyth, Guilford, and New Hanover) the rate is over 50%.
In rural counties, on the other hand, the Hispanic population’s acceptance of the vaccine is lower.
Duplin, Sampson, and Lee, the rural counties with the highest percentage of Latino populations, seldom have 46%, 58%, and 53% vaccinated Hispanics.
"I can assure that the difference between vaccinated Hispanics in rural and urban counties is almost equal to what happens with the Anglo population," Amézquita analyzed.
“The Anglo population that lives in the countryside is much more reluctant to the vaccine than the population that lives in the cities. And I see a similar trend in the Latino community," he added.
Amézquita, indicated that it has to do with politics and “we all know how reluctant the previous administration was to accept the vaccine”.
"And people in rural areas are the ones who have followed Trump the most," he said.
In any case, the health promoter was optimistic about the future.
“We still hope that those who are not vaccinated yet will change their minds. In recent weeks people are asking more about vaccines. And that makes us confident that the figure can improve in the coming months.”