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South Carolina Latino communities see low vaccination rates

Published: Apr. 11, 2021 at 11:11 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Data from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control shows minority populations are getting vaccinated at a disproportionately low rate across the state.

Nearly 1.5 million South Carolinians have now rolled up their sleeves to get the COVID-19 vaccine, but DHEC’s data shows less than 41,000 of those vaccinated are Hispanic or Latino. That correlates to less than 3% of those vaccinated in South Carolina, yet the US census shows this community makes up 6% of the state’s population.

“I’m very concerned,” University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health Consortium for Latino Immigration Studies Researcher Dr. Edena Guimaraes said. “We know in South Carolina that the rate of those getting vaccinated in South Carolina is not as high as they should be.”

Guimaraes said part of the hesitancy stems from misinformation and misconceptions about the vaccine.

“There’s still the belief that the vaccine is not safe,” Guimaraes said. “(There’s the belief that) ‘I’ll wait to see what happens when other people take it, and how they fare, and then I’ll go ahead and take it as well.”

Guimaraes also said age also plays a role.

“The younger Latinos are the ones who are more hesitant compared to the older Latinos,” Guimaraes said. “But one of the issues with the older populations is access to the vaccine.”

She said access to the vaccine can be difficult for a number of reasons.

“There’s a major communication barrier, you have to have transportation to get there, and it has to be certain times of the day because vaccination sites are only open at certain times of the day,” Guimaraes said.

PASOS Director of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Mike Young said there’s also a lack of trust from Latino and Hispanic communities when it comes to the government.

“For a community that has kind of had to hide a little bit and not feel as welcome as they should be at the time, that reluctance to seek out these resources is just kind of the way it’s always been and it’s applying doubly so for vaccines,” Young said. “But we’re trying to bring out that message of the efficacy and the benefits of this vaccine so that individuals feel like they are informed and that they can receive it.”

Guimaraes said grassroots outreach is going to be essential moving forward.

“You have to be able to provide a comprehensive communication campaign for this population,” Guimaraes said. “It needs to be done by people that look like them and can speak their language.”

PASOS is a non-profit organization that works to provide these resources in the Latino community across the state.

“(PASOS holds) webinars and live broadcasts where we talk to community members and experts and bring that information to the community itself about what are the questions you have for doctors,” Young said. “We are trying to encourage and end the trusting element that is lacking.”

$47 million has been allocated to South Carolina to help with these efforts, with the CDC announcing the funding will help support grass-roots efforts to increase vaccine uptake among racial and ethnic minority communities.

“This federal funding is going to provide additional support for these established community-level outreach activities,” DHEC Interim Director Dr. Brannon Traxler said during a briefing earlier this week.

The CDC says the funds can go towards things like door-to-door outreach to help people sign up for the vaccine, as well as hiring community health workers. The CDC said to ensure health equity, 75% of the total funding must focus on specific programs aimed at increasing vaccine access and uptake among racial and ethnic minority communities.

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