Breaking down barriers to vaccine hesitancy

[3 MIN READ]

In this article:

  • There are still barriers to OC residents getting COVID-19 vaccines.
  • Hispanics are one of the largest groups in OC, yet they have fewer vaccinations.
  • Some reasons for hesitation: fear of job loss, transportation problems and more.
  • Strategies to get vaccinations include: promotoras, walk-ins and social media.

Most of the big COVID-19 vaccine sites are long gone, as the need to vaccinate large volumes of people has dropped. The number of vaccinated residents in Orange County (OC) has leveled off. And some of the most vulnerable groups, such as seniors 65 and older, have had their shots.

In just over a few months, these are signs of progress.

Yet the staff and volunteers at Providence St. Joseph Hospital (PSJH) know there are still barriers to the kind of progress that would positively affect even more lives in Orange County. These barriers may be invisible, but they’re no less real.

The good news is that the PSJH team is ready and well-equipped to overcome the obstacles. Here’s how they’re doing it.

Who’s hesitant to get vaccinated — and why

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) report showed that Hispanics are one of the largest groups in OC that have had fewer vaccinations. Yet Hispanics have had a higher number of COVID-19 cases compared to many other groups.

The reasons for what’s creating hesitancy among Hispanics appear to involve barriers to vaccine access and to having helpful information. A closer look at those barriers reveals some of the reasons:

  • Fear of losing jobs by taking time off to get vaccinated
  • No transportation to a community clinic or vaccination event
  • Worries about sharing personal information about someone who is undocumented
  • Concerns they might have to pay out of pocket for the vaccine (although it’s free) or will need to have health insurance
  • Lack of trust in government agencies
  • Misinformation such as:
    • The vaccine could cause cancer or infertility
    • The shot might give them COVID-19
    • The vaccines were developed too fast
    • The vaccines are used to insert a tracking microchip

Christy Cornwall, director of Community Health Investment at PSJH, adds that technology presents another barrier. “At first the only way to register was on a website. Some families don’t use computers, especially those in the older Latin populations.”

The PSJH team also notes that the southern part of OC is more geographically isolated and that there are fewer Spanish-language resources. Fortunately, the area has gotten the attention of health care agencies and there’s been a coordinated effort to schedule, promote and educate about vaccinations in southern OC.

Promotoras: reaching the hesitant Hispanic community

Eduardo Moreno Cerezo, manager of Healthy Communities at the Providence Mission Hospital Family Resource Center, explains that their organization has been going beyond their usual routes to effectively reach vulnerable populations.

“Typically, we’ve used mainly in-person and home visits to reach our communities. But the last months have required us to use more social media and digital approaches, such as Facebook Live events, Instagram and texts,” says Moreno Cerezo.

One of the best ways to reach the Hispanic community is through their promotoras, women who are trusted members of their communities who have built solid relationships over the years.

One of the best ways the Community Health Investment team has been able to reach the Hispanic community is through their promotoras. These local women are trusted members of their communities who have built solid relationships over the years. “They carry a very basic message of help,” says Moreno Cerezo, “such as advising on vaccinations.” They also serve suburban areas that are dealing with a lot of sprawl. And, just as vital, they link to a range of family resources along with vaccination information.

Promotoras have been easing back into in-person contact over the past couple of months. Still, they have tirelessly pursued getting the word out since the start of 2021, whether through phone calls or knocking on doors. It’s also impactful that the volunteers are vaccinated and can serve as real influencers in their communities.

More than just the backbone of the organization, they serve as the heartbeat — the pulse — of their communities. They build connections.

Barrier-busting strategies

As Ms. Cornwall points out, one of PSJH’s goals is to increase access to services. That’s being addressed by directing hesitant groups to go pharmacies, where walk-ins are welcome, and registration isn’t needed.

Another strategy is to meet the hesitant literally right where they are - churches, family resource center and schools.

Another strategy is to meet the hesitant literally right where they are. The Community Health Investment team has set up vaccination sites in neighborhood churches, family resource centers connected with PSJH and other nearby locations. Moreno Cerezo explains that there have also been presentations held at schools to reach isolated parents.

Whenever there’s a chance to be at vaccination events and support the work being done there, the PSJH team has been a strong presence. Usually, six to eight bilingual staff members and volunteers join the site to help make community members feel comfortable. As Moreno Cerezo points out, “We’re always looking for ways to be available to welcome others.”

Faithful to invest in each community’s health

Eduardo Moreno Cerezo believes that working with residents aligns directly with their mission. “We have a longstanding commitment to our communities of need,” he says. “As a faith-based organization with a strong mission and values, we come into this work with a sense of community. We’re open and able to go the extra mile to serve, listen and respond to the needs of the community. We’re constantly challenging ourselves because we know we need to do that to serve the community.”

Volunteers and members of the PSJH community are rolling up their sleeves to take on a major challenge: Encouraging community members to roll up their sleeves so they can get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Thankfully, that’s exactly what’s happening.

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Related resources

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St. Joseph Community Partnership Fund helps create the OC Community Resilience Fund to address the impacts of COVID-19

KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor: COVID-19 Vaccine Access, Information, and Experiences Among Hispanic Adults in the U.S.

Community Health Investment

CHEC Family Resource Center

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The Providence Health Team brings together caregivers from diverse backgrounds to bring you clinically-sound, data-driven advice to help you live your happiest and healthiest selves.

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