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Health & Wealth
KBIA’s Health & Wealth Desk covers the economy and health of rural and underserved communities in Missouri and beyond. The team produces a weekly radio segment, as well as in-depth features and regular blog posts. The reporting desk is funded by a grant from the University of Missouri, and the Missouri Foundation for Health.Contact the Health & Wealth desk.

Trust And Community Critical To Immigrant COVID-19 Outreach, Vaccinations

Abbie Fentress Swanson/Harvest Public Media
Meat and poultry plants are major employers of Spanish-speaking immigrants in Missouri, and are also high-risk work environments when it comes to COVID-19.

COVID-19 vaccine education and outreach are hard enough without a language barrier. But for Missouri’s Spanish-speaking immigrant communities, these efforts are critical. That’s because many work in high-risk environments like meat and poultry processing plants, in rural parts of the state where access to healthcare is already limited.

Dr. Kathleen Page is a professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who co-founded Centro SOL in Baltimore. The center aims to increase education and access to care for Latinx migrants in the area, and its workload has increased since the start of the pandemic.


Dr. Kathleen Page: So the things that I think, early on when March came along, the first thing we did was set up a hotline with our community partners that was in Spanish because, as you probably know, everyone at that time was getting directions to stay home if you were sick, call your doctor and they would give you directions. And we knew that so many low-income immigrants didn’t have a doctor and the lines that were being set up were not in Spanish, so it was hard for them to get any care. And then after that, just to expand a little bit more the access we set up community testing sites in one of the back of a catholic church that has a large Latino congregation.So we’ve been doing this community testing events since June, and they are actually, they have really helped expand access to testing, I mean at this point I think we’ve tested over 3,000 latino immigrants. The positivity rate has been really high. Even when we started was when the first wave was coming down so we thought we wouldn’t see a lot of COVID, and it’s pretty consistently we’ve seen a 30 percent positivity rate amongst Latino immigrants, and much much lower for everyone else.

Health & Wealth: When you're doing outreach and education in the communities you work with, how important is trust? 

Dr. Page: I think that’s the number one thing, the most important thing. So you know I think part of the reason we were able to step into this space is we had, through centro sol and other work, had really worked with immigrant communities for a long time. And as you probably know trust is hard to get and takes a little of time and presence; it’s easy to lose also, so we all have to treat it with a lot of respect. But I do think that the messaging coming from people, especially from the community, is just critical. Some of them are leaders in the community, people who have Facebook live shows and other ways that they can disseminate information or influence opinion. But many people are just people who are volunteering. It’s actually sort of astounding to me that, because we started all of this on a shoestring. It was based on a volunteer effort, both clinicians but also people from the community, who we all know how much they were being affected, who also stepped up to help out with this. So that’s going to be critical for vaccine rollout, to address both access and also a lot of hesitancy and questions people have.

H&W: Moving into vaccinations, what do you foresee being the biggest challenges getting this vulnerable community vaccinated?

Dr. Page: There's two different pieces: one of them is access, and then the other is addressing hesitancy. The first thing to do is to make sure people have access, because you know like in many other communities, Latino immigrants are not monolithic in their thinking, and of course there are some people who are suspicious, have hesitancy about the vaccine, but there are others who really want the vaccine. So, you know, let’s make sure the ones who really want the vaccine can get it and don’t have to jump through 20,000 hoops to get it. And you know recognizing some of the barriers that may be unique to these types of communities, whether it’s transportation, digital literacy, language. Make it easy, go to where they are, make it walk-up. If you’re going to ask people to register, have hotlines that people can call in so if they don’t have a computer they can do it. So all of these things are the first step. The reason I think that’s so important is those people who are eager to get vaccinated, can then tell their friends.