TAMPA — Spanish speakers seeking straight answers about the COVID-19 vaccine are turning by the thousands to a series of online discussions hosted by the University of South Florida.
Since January, the month after the start of the vaccine’s nationwide rollout, Salud Latina USF (Latin Health) has been working to deliver reliable information and remove barriers to vaccination among the region’s Hispanic community. This includes live, interactive webinars with public health experts on the last Thursday of each month.
So far, the live sessions have been seen by over 1,500 people, and another 2,000 have watched them on YouTube, said Dr. Miguel Reina Ortiz, a USF professor of global health. On Instagram, the sessions have more than 500 viewers.
Outreach to the Hispanic community is especially important since Blacks and Hispanics were less likely than whites to get vaccinated at the beginning of the nationwide campaign.
The latest federal data shows the gap is closing, with Hispanic people now accounting for 19 percent of those vaccinated in the U.S. and 21 percent of the recently vaccinated. That compares to a Hispanic share of the population overall of 21 percent. In the past two weeks, 597,000 Hispanics started the vaccination process, an analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
Salud Latina USF has been recognized as a leader in the vaccination education effort, invited to talk about its efforts at health summits nationwide. Among them are the American Public Health Association meeting in October and the global change conference called Project ECHO Latin America at the University of New Mexico.
One of those who found the answers she was looking for through Salud Latina USF is Elizabeth Rivera, 41, of Ruskin, who came down with COVID-19 in June 2020. A wife and a mother of four who was born in Mexico, Rivera finally got her vaccination five months ago — but it took some convincing.
Afterward, she got her 7-year-old daughter, Natalie, vaccinated.
Rivera talked to friends and neighbors about vaccinating her children, “just to be sure.” Then she watched one of the videos in Spanish and learned about the importance of getting children vaccinated to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
“I thought of my children,” Rivera said. “Nobody wants to see their family suffer.”
Vaccinations were the focus of the first Salud Latina USF discussion, followed by COVID-19 treatment myths and COVID-19 variants. Later, the group analyzed the social impact of COVID-19 on the Latino community, migration and health, and gender-based violence.
Talking about COVID-19 in Spanish helps promote a deeper understanding of the challenge COVID-19 presents and provides more tools and options for people to care for their families, Reina said.
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Misinformation on social media about COVID-19 kept many Latinos from making the right choices for months, Reina said. The discussions proved valuable regardless of the participants’ immigration status, political leanings or religion. The discussion about COVID-19 acquires special meaning, he said.
“That’s why we started all of this,” he said. “We realized that there was a need to promote and give the community information based on evidence but in terms that are easy to assimilate and adapt to clear up doubts.”
Salud Latina USF has also inspired students at USF to take a greater interest in the health of Latinos, said Erik L. Ruiz, a graduate research assistant who has been working with the initiative.
“The development of Salud Latina has moved me in several ways to work with the community,” he said.
The next Salud Latina USF webinar is scheduled for Jan. 27, live streaming on Zoom and the Facebook page of the USF College of Public Health. The topic is mental health during the pandemic, with a focus on Latino populations.