The Holdouts: Vaccination advocates hope more accessibility improves Hispanic COVID-19 vaccination rates

This is part of "The Holdouts," an ongoing series about Nevadans who have been hesitant about getting vaccinated against the coronavirus. 

Though Latinos make up a third of Nevada’s population, they account for 36 percent of the COVID-19 cases in the state — and only 26 percent have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Those statistics have spurred outreach efforts aimed at Hispanic communities to make the vaccine available at more convenient places and times. David Perez, public affairs and community engagement manager of Immunize Nevada, said mass vaccination sites, such as those at the Cashman Center and the Las Vegas Convention Center, have become less efficient.

“At the beginning, all the waiting lines [at the mass vaccination sites] were people who wanted to get vaccinated. Then after that stage, we began to see people who wanted to be vaccinated, but did not have time,” Perez said in a Spanish interview. “We changed our efforts to put community clinics in workplaces, in casinos, different churches, grocery stores … Each community needs some kind of access to a clinic that serves its needs. Where people feel comfortable, and they can access the clinic with ease.”

News of the more contagious Delta variant may be encouraging people who fear risking their health to get vaccinated, even with the slight chance of breakthrough cases, Mi Familia Vota State Director Cecia Alvarado told The Nevada Independent.

“Communities are seeing that the risk is increasing, the more you wait, the higher the risk … Seeing new variants arise and now more cases in the state, has definitely been a wake up call for many that haven't gotten vaccinated,” she said. “I have a family member that has been hesitating and he's Latino. And so with this new variant, now he feels like ‘Alright, I've been lucky enough not to get sick, and I can't gamble with my health anymore. So I'm getting vaccinated as soon as possible.’”

Registered nurse Gregory Clark gives Jackline Mejia Lopez, a cheerleader at Las Vegas High School, a COVID vaccine during a Hispanic vaccine outreach event at C.W. Woodbury Elementary School on Friday, Aug. 6, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/Nevada Independent)

For 17-year-old Luz Liborio, her parents and younger brother, a nearby location and easy accessibility made all the difference. They received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in late July at a vaccination event at the Doolittle Community Center in West Las Vegas. 

“We have been trying to get vaccinated for like a week or two, but every single time we would go to Walgreens or CVS, they were always full. So we kind of put it off,” she said. “And today we heard on the radio that they were giving vaccines here and we were like ‘You know what, let's just go do it now.’”

The family decided to look for an opportunity to get vaccinated after seeing that cases were surging again, learning that they live in a “hotspot” neighborhood and knowing that Liborio and her brother were going back to school in a couple of weeks.

Local and state governments, and Immunize Nevada, have partnered with several community groups and health districts to hold and promote the vaccination events. Those include smaller vaccine clinics for undocumented people hosted by immigrant advocacy group Dream Big Nevada, and door-to-door efforts with the help of Mi Familia Vota to reach communities with low vaccination rates.

“The news, the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] or the health district says that if anyone has questions they should go to a doctor, but many people do not have access to a doctor,” Perez said. “So going door-to-door is a very good opportunity to provide information, even if it is very basic, about the COVID-19 vaccine.”

The partnerships create a coalition where each group, public official and set of resources play different roles and hold different levels of trust in the communities, Alvarado said. Other efforts include assuring people that the vaccine is safe, that they do not need health insurance to receive the vaccine for free, and that they will not be asked about their immigration status. 

“We have people that say it's not a matter of whether they want to get vaccinated, but ‘I haven't seen a doctor, I don't have access to health care,’” Alvarado said. “Maybe because of their immigration status or their work, we don't know, but they haven't seen a doctor in maybe five years. And so it's really more of ‘Am I healthy enough to get the vaccine?’”

Maria Rodas sits with her son Christian Soriano Rodas after he received the Covid-19 shot during a Hispanic vaccine outreach event at C.W. Woodbury Elementary School on Friday, Aug. 6, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/Nevada Independent)

The more localized, community-focused outreach also has helped with breaking down barriers and fears, from lack of transportation and language barriers to not having an ID and simple nervousness. The goal has been to help people know that the community clinics are safe spaces. 

“We've kind of stopped just setting up a POD [Point of Dispensing] and just expecting people to come to us,” Jordan Moore, with the City of Las Vegas, said at the Doolittle Community Center event. “It's really just an inclusive process to make everyone comfortable. It's about getting out to the community, talking to those populations that hadn't been reached.”

Maria Rodas received a flyer in the mail about a back to school and COVID-19 vaccine event at her son’s middle school. Rodas has been fully vaccinated since April, but her 13-year-old son had not received the COVID-19 vaccine, so she decided to take advantage of the clinic.

“He even told me, ‘Mom let’s go get me vaccinated because I want to be [in classes] in person,’ so here we are,” Rodas said in Spanish. “I’m seeing in the news that more kids are getting sick and that’s my fear — going to school and coming home and us going to work and running errands. We can’t if we’re not all protected.” 

Perez said it would be “the best situation” if entire households get vaccinated against COVID-19, including eligible children. But a concern is that families may not prioritize the vaccine in children if adults and vulnerable people in the household are already vaccinated and they assume there is no serious danger or the children won’t get sick. 

When outreach efforts achieve building trust in the community through sharing information and answering questions, Perez said, that is success.

“We do not want people to feel that they do not have an option. What we want to do is give people the information they ask for so that they can make a decision that is comfortable for them,” he said. “It’s like a seed. We plant confidence in the vaccine.”

Reporter Sean Golonka contributed to this story.