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COVID vaccine equity gap closing for Oregon's Latino communities

According to the Oregon Health Authority, 71.9% of Hispanic/Latinx adults have received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine compared to the 75.6% of white Oregonians.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Around this time last year, less than half of Oregon's Latino population had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 — something the state's public health officials described as an “unacceptable inequality,” according to an OPB article.

But that share of vaccinated individuals has since grown substantially, nearly closing the equity gap between Latino and other communities in Oregon.

According to the Oregon Health Authority, 71.9% of Hispanic/Latinx adults had received at least two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine as of Sept. 14, compared to 75.6% of white adults in Oregon. This represents a more than 20% jump in vaccination rates within the Latino community when looking back at this time last year.

RELATED: Latest Oregon COVID numbers: Cases, hospitalizations and vaccinations

Hazel Wheeler with Virginia Garcia, a memorial health center with a special emphasis on migrant and seasonal Latino farmworkers in Washington and Yamhill counties, says that the organization has looked for ways to conveniently expand access to the Latino community outside of other clinics' usual schedules — Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“Unfortunately, marginalized people are always going to be at risk in these situations,” said Wheeler. “So, making sure that we’re there to help where needed and help provide people the care to those most at risk — that’s really what motivates us as an organization."

Of the 85,000 COVID-19 vaccines administered through VG, roughly 54,400 of those were Hispanic/Latinx.

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“We doubled up on what it was last year, essentially,” said Wheeler. 

And as public health officials and other groups aim to continue vaccinating and boosting Oregon's BIPOC communities, VG has launched a new vaccination and testing clinic off 7th Avenue in Hillsboro.

"We have a specific dedicated site in Hillsboro,” said Wheeler, “that's just off of the MAX line, that we are trying to bring people from the county and the state as well and again, just try to let them know there's still access within the community.” 

RELATED: Doctors recommend getting COVID booster, flu shot at the same time

In the meantime, the COVID-19 virus is still with us. Wheeler said that their center's positivity rate within the Latino community has shot up to 42% this past week. They’ve averaged a 24% positivity rate in prior recent weeks.

Oregon Health Authority sent KGW the following statement about the progress made in vaccinating the Latino community:

“Last year, as vaccines were being rolled out statewide in the first months of their availability, we saw gaps among our Latino/a/x community. This group already had seen a disproportionate burden in adverse outcomes (meaning COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths) in the pandemic. We saw early on that the pandemic intensified and worsened health inequities caused by systemic racism in the United States. Non-White racial and ethnic groups, including Latino/a/x residents, experience higher rates of disease and worse health outcomes, and are more likely to work in essential services, where they face greater risks of exposure. We heard clearly from community that the burden was being placed on our Latino/a/x residents for being an essential workforce, and community really wanted to see accountability from OHA and from across the entire public health system for a specific plan to address those gaps.

"Our response addressed these gaps. OHA listened to the legitimate concerns from community and Latino/a/x advocates, and we worked on closing these health gaps, using culturally specific approaches. We asked for county public health departments to submit equity plans describing how they would contribute to closing the vaccination gaps among racial and ethnic groups. We worked with community leaders to set a high vaccination target, and we did that for all communities of color. We developed a strategy to vaccinate our migrant and seasonal farmworker populations. We developed Latino/a/x and culturally specific language strategies, including communications in Meso-American languages. We expanded our media engagement and culturally specific media focusing on Latino/a/x residents. We also worked with trusted leaders. On the vaccine access front, we knew that larger vaccination sites couldn’t work for all. There were barriers. To address this gap, we organized events with community-based organizations around the state to do culturally specific events and events with the state’s federally qualified health centers, many who serve Latino/a/x populations.  We also were able to fund over 170 community-based organizations that can be culturally specific in their response, and faith-based institutions, who were able to serve people from a holistic perspective.

"Lastly, our numbers show that for the Latino/a/x population, there's a bigger gap in the younger age group. Some of that was expected, as vaccines for younger persons came later, and that age group is lagging behind older residents. So our update is a reason to acknowledge what was achieved and the collective work that got us there. It also highlights the work that still needs to be done. OHA is committed to eliminate health and equities by 2030, and we learned what it takes to eliminate health inequities, and that means elevating the voice of community and community-based organizations working in partnership with local public health towards specific equity goals and implementing culturally specific strategies.

County level information can also be found on the Vaccine Metrics dashboard. Vaccination rates by county as well as information on how many people remaining to receive first-dose vaccines and bivalence booster can be found on the Statewide tab. Vaccine rates by county and race and ethnicity can be found on the "Race and Ethnicity" tab. (Find that tab here.)”

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