Hispanic, Black residents have lowest vaccine rates 

By Sahar Chmais
After a pop-up vaccine clinic ended, a Latin woman in her 60s was cleaning the venue when she began to stare at the organizers, perplexed and curious about the vaccine.
“I asked if she got a vaccine and she said no,” said Michelle Cohen, founder of Hays Latinos United. “I asked why not. She was afraid of getting sick. I told her yes, some people get a little sick, but it’s not severe. We talked for about 10 minutes, then I brought the pharmacist over to talk to her more about the vaccine. She finally decided to do it. But it takes that kind of conversation, even if it’s one person.”
All Hays County residents ages 12 and up can get the vaccine, but not everyone has the same level of access. Data shows that 27% of Black residents and 30% of Hispanic residents in Hays County have been vaccinated. This is in comparison to 44% of White residents and 59% of Asian residents being vaccinated.
Whether it is due to lack of outreach, no room to take time off, the spread of misinformation, or inability to access vaccine sites, community leaders believe these numbers are too low. Most people who wanted to receive the vaccine rushed to get their shots; but recently the numbers of administered vaccines is beginning to slow down. Hays County is seeing such a low turnout in attendance that county leaders decided to close some clinics.
Not everyone agrees with closing sites, but instead say the county should open clinics in communities where Black and Hispanic people live, work or shop, Cohen said. Pastor James Jacobs of Word of Life Christian Faith Center agrees with this idea.
“They have to go to the heart of the community,” Jacobs told the Hays Free Press/News-Dispatch. “And most people miss that point. The Black community started in the Black church. To me, if you’re going to make sure the information gets out, go to the core, which is the church.”
Jacobs said he believes the government is only reaching parts of the Hays community while leaving others out. He wonders why they do not set up tents in places frequented by some of the Hispanic and Black residents, such as the Black churches, the Poco Loco and more. The government cannot continue using the same method and expect different results, he added.
To combat the issue of access, Cohen and Jacobs began creating their own efforts.
Jacobs made t-shirts that say “I’m fully vaccinated,” to encourage his congregation. He even created a donation system where fully vaccinated residents can get a shirt like his, then he uses that money to donate shoes to kids in Hays County.
Before vaccines were available, Cohen used to find large gatherings and she would give PPE away for free to those who could not afford them or find them. When vaccines came out, she partnered with Walgreens and set up a site between Niederwald and Kyle, targeting a neglected area.
People in a lower socio-economic status might not have access to internet and social media, so instead of using that as the way to communicate vaccine information, she had volunteers flag cars down with vaccine signs.
“One of the first things I noticed was the mistrust when I first went to that area,” Cohen said. “You could sense it; they wonder if it is really free or what they have to do. People would drive by three or four times before turning in. We would hold signs and that is how we got a lot of our people to come in off the road.”
Once people walk in, Cohen hears some of their concerns which stem from misinformation. Some things she heard include people waiting to get the “Catholic vaccine,” thinking that this vaccine has stem cells in it. Others think they can get COVID-19 from the vaccine and some simply do not trust the process used to create the vaccine.
Misinformation around the vaccine spans further than its chemical makeup. Cohen said some undocumented residents are afraid of getting the vaccine, thinking they have to show documentation when they get to the clinic and then get put in the system.
Even if people accepted getting the vaccine and had the means of transportation, a large part of the workforce deemed essential with an hourly wage is Hispanic or Black. Many of these residents cannot afford taking a few days off to recover from the vaccine’s side effects, said Jacobs.
Cohen has also heard this issue before.
“When the state opened up, guess who went back to work,” Cohen said. “And who is the last to get the vaccine? People of color. That’s why people in leadership are outraged; we saw this coming and it still angers us.”
Cohen and Jacobs  will continue to put all their power out there to get more people vaccinated and will try every creative method to get people in and educated about the vaccine. Jacobs will continue encouraging his congregates about the vaccine by giving them the data, facts and using other motivational methods.
Hays Latinos United’s first site was next door to a Mexican restaurant, in hopes the employees would come in. Cohen raffled off items and gave away snacks for the patients. The next step will be securing Johnson & Johnson vaccines so that people do not get busy or forget coming in to receive their second dose.
“Nobody wants to talk about the brown elephant in the room – the Latinos who are not getting vaccinated. That’s our mission, to take care of the Latinos. If we don’t, who is going to? I’m going to keep at it until we are at least 50% by the end of summer. That would be a goal I’m working towards, but if we’re plateauing already, that concerns me.”

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Sahar Chmais holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin. She has been covering cities in Hays County for one year, touching on residents' struggles and successes, city issues, COVID-19 and more. Prior to reporting on the local spectrum, Sahar reported for a national news organization, covering gun violence. Sahar enjoys working as a local reporter because she gets to work with real people and their stories.

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