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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

Charlotte Study: Distrust, Misinformation Biggest Factors In Latino Vaccine Hesitancy

Health researchers at the Camino Community Center in Charlotte released the findings of a new study on the impact ff COVID-19 on Latino communities in the greater Charlotte and surrounding areas.
Laura Brache
Health researchers at the Camino Community Center in Charlotte released the findings of a new study on the impact ff COVID-19 on Latino communities in the greater Charlotte and surrounding areas.

North Carolina’s Latino population is getting vaccinated against COVID-19 at an alarmingly low rate. As of March 11, they are only 3.3% of the state's vaccinated population, according to data from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

In Mecklenburg County, Latinos are nearly 14% of the population. But out of 150,000 people who have been vaccinated in the county, only 5.5% are Latino.

Rusty Price is the founder of the Camino Community Center, a Latino-based health and wellness clinic in Charlotte. He says Latino experts and community members, like the ones running his organization, are better equipped to serve this underserved population than any other group.

"Let the Latino community deal with the Latino community because (they) have trained experts and they trust each other," Price said.

To increase Latino vaccination rates, the clinic has developed its own strategy: It’s called the "abuela" —or grandmother — approach. The idea is to reach the matriarch figure of the family, learn their needs, and help get them and the rest of their families vaccinated.

"We’re gonna highlight that very important value, and use that as a touchstone to get our message out to the people," he said. "Let’s take care of abuela because then, everybody else will be OK."

This approach makes sense to Jenifer Montoya of Hickory.

In February, Montoya called the Catawba County health department to schedule a vaccine appointment for her immigrant grandmother. She's originally from Honduras. A representative wrongly told her that she isn’t eligible for the vaccine because she’s in the country illegally.

"I kept asking myself, 'Is this even legal? Can they discriminate (against) you based on your immigration status?'” Montoya said.

The answer is no. In fact, the vaccine is free to anyone regardless of immigration status.

Montoya says her grandmother didn’t question what she was told. Fortunately, she had Montoya as her advocate. She complained, and her grandmother received her first shot of the vaccine on Feb. 25.

Catawba County Health Director Jennifer McCraken confirmed the incident occurred. She says the staff member who spoke to Montoya’s grandmother has been reeducated about eligibility criteria and other COVID-19 services.

Price says that ensuring the Latino and undocumented community received the same amount of access to the vaccines goes beyond "policy" and "politics."

"Let's just look at the people, because I really believe that transcends any type of political debate,” he said.

Over the weekend, the Camino revealed the findings of a new study from a recent survey of 422 Latinos that Camino and its partners serve in which 90% of respondents identified as immigrants.

Data show 68% of Latinos expect to get the vaccine. The majority either don’t trust the vaccine or doubt that it works as well as advertised. And many who said they want the vaccine expressed doubts they would get it because they lack health insurance or have language and transportation barriers. Ten percent said their immigration status would keep them from getting vaccinated.

The study concludes that the low vaccination rate among Latinos in North Carolina may be due to a lack of access to the vaccine through trusted sources in the community. Camino called on state and local public health officials to consider their findings to create initiatives that will help get more Latinos vaccinated against COVID-19.

But Price is optimistic the “abuela approach” can change minds. He says creating awareness about the disparities facing the Latino and immigrant communities will encourage them to act and make informed decisions about their health.

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Laura Brache works with WFAE and La Noticia, an independent Spanish-language news organization based in Charlotte, through Report for America to cover immigration and deportation issues facing the Latino community. She also reports on the Charlotte immigration court, one of the toughest in the nation with the second-highest deportation rate in the country in 2019.