Things That Matter

How One Community Got Their Latino Vaccination Campaign Right And What It Means For The Rest Of Us

There has been a surprising turn of events in Maryland’s Montgomery County (which includes the suburbs of Washington, DC) related to the community’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout. For the first time ever, the vaccination rate for Latino residents is higher than the rate for white residents. But it’s taken a lot of hard work and special campaigns to create such a successful result – so what can other parts of the country with large Latino populations learn from Maryland?

A Maryland county sees vaccine rates surge among Latino community thanks to ongoing campaigns.

Witnessing a large disparity between the vaccination rates of the county’s Latino and white residents, officials partnered with several non-profits to launch local campaigns that would help improve trust with the Latino community. Thanks to a joint effort by Montgomery County, Telemundo, and local Latino activists, experts joined together online to provide information and ensure the safety of getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

They also launched a TV ad featuring a very animated abuela, urging the community to do their part by getting the vaccine. And the campaign seems to be working. The vaccination rate for Latinos in the county is 5% above that of white residents. Which is a major change from just a few months ago when the rate for Latinos had lagged behind that of whites by about 20%.

“It underscores [our] efforts . . . from an equity perspective to ensure that we did our due diligence, particularly in those communities,” Montgomery County Health Officer Travis Gayles said Wednesday.

In fact, community outreach in Montgomery County started shortly after the vaccine was first introduced. Officials met locals in churches, libraries, gym, and grocery stores to get the word out that vaccines were safe, effective, and free.

Outreach like this is important to close the gap between vaccine rates for different racial groups.

Since the very beginning of the pandemic, it became clear that communities of color – particularly Black and Latino communities – were being disproportionately affected by COVID-19. From higher rates of job loss and poverty to actual infection and death rates, Black and Brown Americans largely endured the worst of the pandemic.

Unfortunately, as the vaccine rollout began, those same communities were largely left out of the benefits afforded by widespread vaccination rates. A survey conducted by the University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging found that 86% of Latinos said they would not want to receive a vaccine as soon as possible and that 66% of Latinos do not believe the vaccine will be safe. Much of this hesitancy can be attributed to widespread misinformation campaigns.

“Latinos lag behind in vaccination rates, driven in part by Spanish-language disinformation deliberately targeting us on Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp and more. The conspiracy forces that tried to depress Latino voter turnout with lies about the election now appear to be using internet platforms to tell Latinos the vaccine contains a microchip, alters DNA or causes stillbirths,” according to Jean Guerrero, who spoke with the Los Angeles Times. Then there is also the very real concerns beyond medical safety – things like cost and necessary documentation.

If there’s one thing that Montgomery Country has taught us, it’s that the best outreach efforts are hyperlocal. We need our local officials, local experts, local community leaders to really be leading the charge in their communities to urge residents to go out and do their part by getting the vaccine.

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