The administration of President Joe Biden is implementing a multi-faceted strategy to increase vaccination rates among Latinos in the US, including working with local organizations for community outreach efforts, WhatsApp initiatives to combat misinformation, door-to-door visitors and social media campaigns, according to three Latinos that form a key part of the White House's Covid-19 relief efforts.
In an exclusive interview for LPO, White House Associate Director of Communications for Covid Marissa Sanchez-Velasco explained that among the senior officials on staff is a Dr. Marcela Nunez Smith, whose remit as an advisor on equity is "to hold listening sessions with these communities and with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus."
"We are doing everything we can to make sure that we have regular sessions to hear the concerns of Hispanic members of Congress and stakeholder groups," she said.
White House Covid-19 Intergovernmental Affairs Director, Eduardo Cisneros, said that the strategy is "to send trusted messengers, not necessarily the federal government, but contracting and funding local non-profits, health centers and providers, and even churches and faith groups in these communities to get the message out. A lot of it is education."
The federal government has loosened residency and registration requirements so that Latinos feel more comfortable going to a vaccination site - regardless of immigration status. Throughout the country, organizations working with undocumented immigrants have reported many undocumented residents have expressed reluctance to be vaccinated due to concerns over their status causing legal issues.
"You can get vaccinated regardless of your immigration status. It's free. It's available at every pharmacy, practically within five miles of your community. Just communicating that has an impact," Cisneros added.
While vaccinated individuals have been shown to be protected from new variants of the virus, the White House remains concerned that the Delta variant is affecting communities with lower vaccination rates, particularly with largely African-American and Latino populations.
Kevin Munoz, Assistant Press Secretary at the White House, said that "it's a miracle of science and logistics of this team to make sure that 90% of Americans live within five miles of a vaccination site."
"We're doing mobile units. We've got a WhatApp texting program to make sure you can get your information about the closest vaccine site near you," he added. "While [the Delta variant] is concerning, it's also exciting that we've been able to build the infrastructure to make the vaccine reachable for everybody."
While the White House is working with health officials, academics and private sector organizations to review ongoing data, it is currently not recommending vaccine boosters.
Unvaccinated people currently represent nearly 99% of recent Covid-19 deaths.
"[This] means that these deaths are entirely preventable because they don't want to get vaccinated" Sanchez-Velasco said. "Every death is preventable."
Looking to the future, part of the White House's long-term strategy for preventing and combating future pandemics entails a global effort. The Biden administration is working with institutions both in the US and abroad to improve pandemic preparedness.
"There are a lot of dollars for research, infrastructure, testing and sequencing to make sure that when we do see different viruses and pandemics in the future, we'll be better prepared as a country overall," Cisneros said.
In April, Dr. Eliseo J. Perez Stable, the Director of the National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities, told LPO that vaccine conspiracy theories and rumors in Spanish have bred mistrust and hesitancy among some sections of the US Latino population.
Statistics show that Latinos were among the communities hardest hit by the pandemic - particularly in 2020.
Data from the Center for American Progress, for example, showed that Latinos were 1.7 times more likely to contract the Covid-19 virus than their white counterparts, as well as 4.1 times more likely to be hospitalized and 2.8 times more likely to die as a result of the virus.
Latinos were also disproportionately impacted by pandemic-induced job losses at the height of the pandemic, and accounted for 23% of initial job losses. In January of this year - just before the Biden administration came into office - the unemployment rate among Latinos stood at 8.6%, compared to 9.2% for African-Americans and 5.7% for whites.
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