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Info Gap Drives Vaccine Hesitancy Among Communities Of Color, Survey Suggests


People of color still lack the resources they need to make informed decisions about getting vaccinated against COVID-19, according to a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation. It found Black and Hispanic adults surveyed worry more than white respondents about missing work due to side effects, paying out-of-pocket for the free vaccine, or finding a reputable clinic to obtain the shot.

“Clearly more outreach efforts need to be done in these communities,” said Ashley Kirzinger, Kaiser Family Foundation’s associate director for public opinion and survey research.

One of the survey’s more striking findings is that 45 percent of Hispanic adults said they did not have enough information about when they could get vaccinated, and 42 percent said they were unsure about their eligibility — even though all adults are now eligible.

Still, Kirzinger points out, Black and Hispanic adults were not the most vaccine-hesitant. White Republicans have been more hesitant than any other demographic group, but survey data show vaccine hesitancy among Republican participants dropped from 29 percent in March to 20 percent in April.

Meanwhile, members of Black and Hispanic communities often represented the “wait and see group.” In other words, Kirzinger said, people of color with reservations about getting the shot were often seeking more information about the vaccine’s safety and efficacy. They had legitimate questions they wanted answered. In Hispanic communities, a language barrier may be keeping those questions unanswered.

The survey’s release comes on the heels of a federal civil rights complaint alleging people with limited English language proficiency do not have “meaningful access” to COVID-19 resources.

The National Health Law Program filed the complaint against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Department of Homeland Security. It argues that local, state and federal agencies are failing to provide adequate language services when it comes to COVID-19 testing, vaccines, treatment and contact tracing.

Priscilla Huang, a senior attorney with the National Health Law Program, said her firm launched a national survey last month after learning of multiple roadblocks that people with limited English language proficiency encountered when trying to access COVID-related services, particularly vaccines.

“We received an overwhelming response,” Huang said.

More than 60 people submitted examples from various states including Colorado.

In Glenwood Springs, Colorado, where Hispanic people comprise more than a quarter of the population, a qualified Spanish interpreter there said there is a dearth of Spanish language information available, according to the complaint.

“The hospital websites used for scheduling vaccines are not translated in Spanish, and the hospital call centers do not have Spanish interpreters to answer the phone,” the complaint reads. “The information sheet given to people after they receive their vaccine is not available in Spanish. Vaccine sites do not have enough interpreters.”

The complaint claims some of Colorado’s Indigenous residents have also been left behind. While many rural counties in Colorado have Spanish-language interpreters, “there are typically no interpreters available in languages such as Navajo/Diné Bizaad, Pueblo, Zapotec, and Mixtec,” the complaint reads. “There are also typically no public-facing COVID-19 resources for individuals who speak languages other than English and Spanish.”

That means some people with limited English language proficiency are missing out on crucial information outlining everything from side effects to obtaining a second dose of the shot, Huang said. Meanwhile, she says some health departments that are actually translating information are using inadequate tools, such as Google Translate.

The nuance of healthcare terminology and the meaning of words is often lost.

“Google Translate is not designed to be a substitute for a qualified translator,” Huang said. “You know, people go through certification programs, they get tested in order to become a qualified translator.”

These problems reflect “the series of barriers and challenges that people who are not English proficient have to face, just trying to get vaccinated,” she said.

I wear many hats in KUNC's newsroom as an executive producer, editor and reporter. My work focuses on inequality, the systems of power that entrench it, and the people who are disproportionately affected. I help reporters in my newsroom to also uncover these angles and elevate unheard voices in the process.
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