Distrust of the medical system for Deicin Garcia goes back to when she arrived from Mexico 15 years ago as an undocumented teenager. She and her family came to pick tobacco on a ranch about half an hour’s drive north of Hartford.
“When I started working in the tobacco field, we hardly ever went to the doctor. I don’t believe anyone spoke about health insurance, either,” said Garcia in Spanish.
After Garcia’s father was deported, she left the tobacco ranch and secured permanent status. With her GED, she then trained to become a community health worker and now helps new mothers learn about the benefits of breastfeeding. Even though Garcia recently had COVID-19, she’s not convinced that getting vaccinated is a good idea.
“It’s a tough question, and I’m afraid I’ll have a negative reaction to the vaccine,” she said.
Garcia is not alone in her reluctance. A new Kaiser Family Foundation poll finds that a general willingness to get vaccinated against COVID-19 has gone up since December. But there’s still hesitancy, most notably among Black and Latino people. The survey finds that more than half of Latino adults are in no rush to get vaccinated.
Liany Arroyo, director of Hartford’s health department, says many residents like Garcia worry about how quickly the vaccine was developed and what long-term effects it may have. Arroyo says many Latino residents also have historical reasons to be skeptical. She recalls the Tuskegee experiment in the mid-20th century when Black men were deliberately not treated for syphilis so researchers could study them.
“There are also things that happened in the Latino community that we don’t necessarily always talk about,” said Arroyo.
Arroyo refers to the experiments in the 1940s when the U.S. Public Health Service used sex workers to expose prisoners in Guatemalan jails to sexually transmitted diseases. Or in the 1950s, when Puerto Rican women from low-income communities were given experimental birth control pills without being told they were part of a clinical trial.
Arroyo says her department is also aware that some people don’t want their personal information shared with the federal government.
“For us, if someone is undocumented and does not feel comfortable having all of their information in this database, then we’re going to work with them to put only the information that’s absolutely necessary,” said Arroyo.
Another concern is the lack of health insurance among Latinos, even though in Connecticut anyone can receive the COVID-19 vaccine regardless of whether they have insurance coverage -- and regardless of immigration status.
Arroyo also recently conducted a focus group in which half of the participants were Latino.
“Community members want to hear from physicians. They want to hear from health care workers,” she said. “So they want to hear from individuals in their own community that are seeing them. They also have been very clear. They want to see the politicians get the vaccine. If it’s safe, then the politicians should also roll up their sleeve and get that shot in their arm.”
Dr. Jorge Moreno, an internist and assistant professor at the Yale School of Medicine, created a YouTube video describing his experience getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
“There was very little information available in Spanish, and there was little information from Hispanic providers that could speak the language that could relate and give their experience about the vaccine,” said Moreno.
Back in her home, Garcia is still recovering from COVID-19 and supporting breastfeeding moms remotely. Some have asked for her thoughts about the vaccine.
“The truth is when I’m asked about the vaccine, I share information but not my own views,” said Garcia. “If my job requires it so that I can continue to help moms, I would get it. But I’m hoping, not yet.”
Her own view is in line with the 9% of Latinos in America who say they would get the vaccine only if their job required it.
Brenda León is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.