COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy among Hispanic and immigrant communities continues

Crews continue to host vaccine events in Osceola County

ORLANDO, Fla. – Although the vaccine rollout for Latinos and undocumented immigrants has improved, there are still some lingering concerns about the vaccine and its effectiveness.

“There are all these myths about will it change my DNA, will it have certain side effects, how was the vaccine created, and does that have some sort of negative effect depending on my religious beliefs,” Laura Pichardo Cruz, the executive director for Hope Community Center in Apopka said.

The center continues to tackle misinformation on social media about the COVID-19 vaccine; they say health concerns are still a topic among the immigrant and Latino communities--including Jessica Ramírez.

“Cuando es algo nuevo es algo que quizás no sabemos si va a ser efecto o no, o si va a tener cosas negativas en tu cuerpo,” Jessica Ramírez, a native of Mexico said.

“When it’s something new we don’t know if it will be effective or not-- or if it will have a negative effect on our body,” she said.

Ramírez added she had many doubts, especially because there’s a lot of negative information and mistrust about the vaccine on social media.

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After medical experts went to her workplace at the Farmworker’s Association of Florida, Ramírez said those concerns became a thing of the past and she is now fully vaccinated after educating herself and talking to doctors. Most of her family has also received the vaccine, with the exception of one family member who she’s trying to convince.

The Farmworkers Association of Florida and Hope Community Center have been working to provide vaccination events and educational opportunities for minority groups.

“The pandemic really highlighted some of the health disparities that our system has,” Neza Xiuhtecutli,” general coordinator for the Farmworkers Association said.

“Farmworkers, in general, don’t have access to healthcare and they have a lot of barriers including transportation, language. I think this is an opportunity for us to take a hard look at those issues and see what we can do.”

Pichardo Cruz said the events make a big difference.

“We’ve noticed when we have those small gatherings that people have a completely different attitude when they’re able to ask questions in their language and get very direct answers from a medical expert,” Pichardo Cruz said. “If you continue to have fears, contact us. We will put you in touch with people that know that will answer your questions directly in your own language.”

Then there’s still a misunderstanding in terms of Florida’s requirements to be vaccinated. According to Hope Community Center, some immigrants and Latinos still think they need to show proof of residency--a requirement that is no longer in place.

“The other side of the hesitancy has to do with the residency requirements that used to be in place under the state of Florida,” Pichardo Cruz said.

Orange County commissioner Mayra Uribe said officials are putting their efforts on mobile vaccination sites now that several county vaccination sites have shut down, including the Orange County Convention Center and some recreation centers.

“I still speak to people who tell me ‘I’m scared And I said: What are you scared of? ‘No, no, no. I don’t know enough’ the commissioner recalled.

Uribe said she also wants her community to know if you’ve recovered from the virus and believe you don’t need a vaccine--you’re living with false hope.

“We’ve seen people get sick more than once,” Uribe said. “I tell people don’t take comfort in knowing that. Take comfort in getting the vaccine and making sure you’re protected.”

In Osceola County, the fight to clear up doubts is ongoing as well.

“Our health department has been very focused on messaging to our Hispanic community the importance of getting vaccinated. Now what we’re seeing is more of the why should I get vaccinated?” Jeremy Lanier, public information officer for the county’s health department said. “Some people are still confused as to you know when it gets in my system does it affect my DNA and that’s a realistic concern.”