Vaccination programs work best when as many people as possible get vaccinated, but Latinos in the United States are getting inoculated at lower rates.
In Florida, for example, Latinos are 27% of the population but they’ve made up only about 17% of COVID-19 vaccinations so far, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Oscar Londoño is working to change that. He’s executive director of WeCount!, a membership-based organization for immigrant workers in Homestead, Fla., which is home to many Latino farmworkers.
In an interview with Weekend Edition, Londoño says Latinos are relying on social media and word-of-mouth for information on vaccines — even when it’s wrong. “There’s myths circulating around the vaccine, whether you can trust it, the long-term effects,” he says.
And it’s not just obstacles to getting information in Spanish, he says, “but also in many of the native Mayan indigenous languages that farmworkers speak in South Florida.”
Below are highlights of the interview, edited for length and clarity.
One thing that presents a barrier for Latino communities is a lack of resources in Spanish. But there’s also just simply access to health care and there’s also misinformation and mistrust. What do you consider the main reason Latinos are less vaccinated from your experience in your area?
A lot of people have misinformation. They’re getting their information around the vaccine from social media, YouTube, WhatsApp groups, word-of-mouth. There’s myths circulating around the vaccine, whether you can trust it, the long-term effects. And so part of the work that needs to be done is curing that misinformation.
But in addition to that, there’s also the challenges around access to begin with. We’re talking about communities that have been chronically under and uninsured, communities that have their own issues with accessing health care. And then, of course, as you mentioned, the issue of language.
Can you give me some examples of the misinformation that you’re seeing in the community and the mistrust that that’s engendered?
When we began talking to members back in December and January about the vaccine, there were a lot of members that began to report, “Listen, I trust vaccines generally, but maybe not this one.” “It seems to me that it was expedited” or “I don’t trust the past administration” or “I want to wait and see and see whether or not there’s any long-term symptoms associated with the vaccine.”
And so a lot of it tends to be around sort of the public health and science behind it.
Is some of the hesitancy also around being undocumented. I mean, there are many undocumented people down in that part of Florida.
Yes. So there’s always been this challenge of trying to cure some of the issues that public charge and the conversation around public charge caused. We know that public charge isn’t implicated when it comes to vaccines.
And the public charge issue is, of course, under the Trump administration, if you tapped into any services as an undocumented person, it might limit you from legalizing yourself.
Exactly. And that rule hasn’t been entirely reversed under Biden. And so there’s still that long-standing concern and fear around accessing those kinds of benefits.
How are you reaching out to the Latino community?
What we’re doing through our radio station and through our workshops is making sure that all of our materials, all of our PSAs are not just in Spanish, but also in many of the native Mayan indigenous languages. And then also when you have application programs that are really much about accessing an online application, you’re going to create barriers for many low-income communities.
What we’ve seen in our own membership is that there are members who are housing insecure, there are members who don’t have access to Internet, which is why for many of them they come to WeCount!’s office. We help them complete applications. We help them by providing our computer lab so they can access some form of Internet.
And the additional barrier is that for housing insecure populations, what we’re seeing is also that there is a requirement that many of them provide some proof that they reside in Florida. That can be a rental agreement, it can be a utility bill. But because of the housing crisis and the chronic levels of housing insecurity in Florida, many of these members are living in cramped quarters, many of them are sharing a rental apartment — four, five, six, seven workers together — and the utility bill or the rental agreement might be under only one person’s name.
Do you know how many members of yours have been vaccinated?
Currently, none. And many of them are currently below the eligible age, so the governor set the age of  or above. None of our members qualified because frontline essential workers haven’t been included in the first round of prioritization. And second, because many of our members actually currently don’t have any access to a government-issued photo ID.
And do you know how many have been sick?
Many. We’ve had, unfortunately, members who have had extended stays in the hospital after catching COVID, we’ve had members who have gone to work, unfortunately sick because they don’t have paid sick leave, because they’re scared of losing their job. And then we’ve had members who have lost family members and friends as a result of the pandemic. So we know firsthand how deadly and unfortunate and tragic this pandemic has been.