For Deicin Garcia, distrust of the medical system goes back to when she arrived from Mexico 15 years ago as an undocumented teenager. She and her family had come to pick tobacco on a ranch about a 30-minute drive north of Hartford, Conn.
“When I started working in the tobacco field, we hardly ever went to the doctor. I don’t believe anyone spoke about health insurance, either,” Garcia said in Spanish.
After Garcia’s father was deported, she left the tobacco ranch and secured permanent status. With her GED, she then trained to become a community health worker and now helps new mothers learn about breastfeeding benefits. Even though Garcia recently had COVID-19, she’s not convinced getting vaccinated is a good idea.
“It’s a tough question, and I’m afraid I’ll have a negative reaction to the vaccine,” she said.
A new Kaiser Family Foundation poll finds that a general willingness to get vaccinated against COVID-19 has gone up since December. But there’s still hesitancy, most notably among Blacks and Latinos. Garcia is not alone in being skeptical. The survey finds that more than half of Latino adults are in no rush to get vaccinated.
Liany Arroyo, director of Hartford’s local health department, says many residents like Garcia worry about how quickly the vaccine was developed and what long-term effects it may have. Arroyo says many Latino residents also have historical reasons to be skeptical. She recalls the Tuskegee experiment in the mid-20th century when Black men were deliberately not treated for syphilis so researchers could study them.
“There are also things that happened in the Latino community that we don’t necessarily always talk about,” Arroyo said.
Arroyo refers to the experiments in the 1940s where the U.S. Public Health service used sex workers to expose prisoners in Guatemalan jails with sexually transmitted diseases. Or in the 1950s, Puerto Rican women from low-income communities were given experimental birth control pills without being told they were part of a clinical trial.
Arroyo says her department is also aware that some people don’t want their personal information shared with the federal government.
“For us, if someone is undocumented and does not feel comfortable having all of their information in this database, then we’re going to work with them to put only the information that’s absolutely necessary,” Arroyo said.
Another concern is the lack of health insurance among Latinos, even though in Connecticut, anyone can receive the COVID-19 vaccine, whether they have insurance coverage or not, regardless of immigration status.
Arroyo also recently conducted a focus group where half of the participants were Latino.
“Community members want to hear from physicians. They want to hear from health care workers,” she said. “So they want to hear from individuals in their own community that are seeing them. They also have been very clear. They want to see the politicians get the vaccine. If it’s safe, then the politicians should also roll up their sleeve and get that shot in their arm.”
Dr. Jorge Moreno is an internist and an assistant professor at the Yale School of Medicine. To build trust, he created a YouTube video describing his experience getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
“There was very little information available in Spanish, and there was little information from Hispanic providers that could speak the language that could relate and give their experience about the vaccine,” Moreno said.
Back in her home, Garcia is still recovering from COVID-19 and supporting breastfeeding moms remotely. Some have asked for her thoughts about the vaccine.
“The truth is when I’m asked about the vaccine, I share information but not my own views,” Garcia said. “If my job requires it, so that I can continue to help moms, I would get it. But I’m hoping, not yet.”
Her own view is in line with the 9% of Latinos in America who say they would only get the vaccine only if their job required it.