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Vaccine hesitancy persists among Latinx community in Springfield

A sign outside South Congregational Church in Springfield, Massachusetts, with information about Pioneer Valley Project and Behavioral Health Network's pop-up vaccination clinic.
Nirvani Williams
/
NEPM
A sign outside South Congregational Church in Springfield, Massachusetts, with information about Pioneer Valley Project and Behavioral Health Network's pop-up vaccination clinic.

Vaccine hesitancy is still prevalent in Hispanic and Latinx communities in Springfield, with COVID-19 vaccination rates trailing well behind the statewide average.

The Latinx community in Springfield has been cautious when it comes to getting vaccinated. But at a pop-up clinic last week at South Congregational Church, nurse Lola White tried to comfort people coming in.

“This is just gonna be a little baby pinch, okay? I promise, just relax,” White said.

Raymond Zayas was one of the Springfield residents receiving his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

“When the vaccine first came out, I didn't really hop into it. It was like sort of to see how people respond to it or how they act, what reactions and stuff like that. So I gave it some times and I’ve seen that everything was fine. And so, you know, I decided to get it,” Zayas said.  

Among Hispanic and Latinx residents of Springfield, 36% are fully vaccinated, according to state data, compared to 54% statewide. This is significantly lower than the total percentage of Massachusetts residents fully vaccinated, at 69%.

Jisel Pena came back to the church for her booster shot with her child. She works at a food pantry.

“When they first started talking about vaccine, I was like, ‘I am not going to get it. I'm not going to get it.’ But then I was like, ‘I'm going to get it.’ Because I work at a pantry, so I work with the public. So I am exposing myself and I have him and I have two older boys, so I was like, ‘I better be protected.’”

Emily Rodriguez is a bilingual community organizer for Pioneer Valley Project, which organized the clinic, and a couple dozen others, with the Behavior Health Network. She said it’s especially difficult for Latinx immigrants to understand and trust information that isn’t familiar to them.

“When you come to a country when you don't know the language and you just are like segregated with your own community, you only talk to your own community and the misinformation is just there,” Rodriguez said.

To help combat that, Rodriguez said the nonprofit purposely organizes pop up clinics in areas Latinx residents frequent often — like this church.

“They were happy to show up and see us, ‘Oh, you guys doing the vaccine? Oh wow. How late you're going to be here?’ And a lot of people saw the opportunity took that opportunity and told me, like, ‘Where are the places you're going to be? I have other people that I know.’ So when you find someone that you trust and you're in a community and you know they're there to help, you do it,” Rodriguez said.

And her group is going to keep offering it. As COVID-19 cases are again rising in Springfield and across the region, Rodriguez and others have more clinics planned to address the disparity among who is getting vaccinated. 

Copyright 2021 New England Public Media. To see more, visit New England Public Media.

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Nirvani Williams
Nirvani Williams covers socioeconomic disparities for New England Public Media, joining the news team in June 2021 through Report for America. Prior to this, Williams was the associate editor of Seema, an online publication dedicated to spreading more stories about women in the Indian diaspora, and has written a variety of articles, including a story about a Bangladeshi American cybersecurity expert and her tips for protecting phone data while protesting. Williams interned at WABC-TV’s “Eyewitness News,” WSHU public radio, and La Voce di New York, a news site in Italian and English. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Stony Brook University, where she was the executive editor of the student-run culture magazine, The Stony Brook Press.

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