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Hispanic and Latino Coloradans still aren’t being vaccinated equally

A 9Wants to Know investigation found the disparity is worst in Adams County.

COLORADO, USA — 9Wants to Know found the vaccine disparity in Adams County to be the worst for Hispanics and Latinos in Colorado through an analysis of state health and U.S. Census data. 

Our analysis found that two in 10 Hispanic or Latino residents in Adams County have been vaccinated compared to the four out of 10 that Census data shows should be happening.

John Douglas, the executive director at Tri-County Health, said the disparity is improving, but the growth is slow.

“So the bad news is sort of getting less bad, but... we still have a big gap, so you know, we’ve spent a lot of effort trying to understand this,” he said. 

RELATED: Latinos in Colorado have disproportionately low COVID vaccination rate

RELATED: Teens help outreach clinic vaccinate elderly Hispanic and Latinx Coloradans

The data shows the number of vaccines going to Hispanic and Latino residents in Adams County has improved to 20%, up from 10% vaccinated, but the rates are still not equal.

Douglas said a possible explanation for the Adams County gap is a blind spot in the data. He said a “sizeable” number of residents who chose not to disclose their race or ethnicity live in a neighborhood that Census data shows is predominantly Hispanic/Latino. CDPHE data shows that about 15% of vaccine recipients in Adams County did not disclose a race or ethnicity. 

"...But that means we may be doing better than we think because a lot of the unknowns might actually come from the Hispanic community," Douglas said.

The statewide picture 

9Wants To Know analyzed state health data from May 2021 and found more Hispanic and Latino Coloradans are vaccinated, but not at the rate they should be. 9NEWS first reported on the phenomenon in February and looked at the same data in May.

If things were equal,  two of every 10 vaccines would be going to Hispanic and Latino Coloradans statewide. 

Instead, it’s one in 11, an improvement from the numbers in February that showed one in 20 doses went to a Hispanic or Latino Coloradan.

Brandy Emily, the health equity branch chief for the CDPHE, said the agency has more work to do but they are making strides. 

“We’re very close to reaching some of our goals, and we’re very far away from reaching some of those goals, so we continue to do the research, we continue to have boots on the ground, and talk to the communities and understand where the hesitancies lie, where the barriers lie and we continue to overcome those,” she said.  

This is all important because Hispanic and Latino Coloradans have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic in cases and hospitalizations. 

One in five Coloradans are Hispanic/Latino, but have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. They account for:   

  • About one in three COVID-19 hospitalizations

  • One in four COVID-19 cases

  • One in five COVID-19 deaths

Possible reasons for the vaccine disparities

A national Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) survey found Hispanics are eager to get the vaccine, but misinformation like false rumors that the vaccine costs money and concerns about missing work from side effects keep them from getting vaccinated. 

Douglas believes most people are interested in getting the vaccine, but it’s hard to get to an appointment.  

“People are busy [working] two jobs, people are worried about getting side effects and having to miss work and maybe being fired if they miss work and even though there are state protections to allow you to take paid time off to get the vaccine in order to recover from side effects,” he said.

9NEWS wants to learn more about what's keeping Hispanic and Latino Coloradans from getting a COVID-19 vaccine. You can help us by filling out this survey: 

The survey can also be found in Spanish here

Employers are required by law to give time off to get the vaccine and cope with side effects, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment

"If you don’t know that law exists, you can’t make that case for yourself," said Maria Milagros Kneusel.

She runs vaccine clinics targeting the Hispanic and Latino community with the help of trusted community organizations.

“When communities have been disenfranchised, it’s difficult to feel like you have a voice and you have the power to say something,” Kneusel said. “Especially when you are concerned that you can potentially lose your job if you don’t show up because you decided to take half a day off to get your family vaccinated.” 

Kneusel recalled a heartbreaking moment when a family came to one of the vaccine events after the clinic had run out of vaccine. 

"This was their one day off work to come and get this vaccine and they don’t have the privilege of taking a different day off,” she said. "I don’t know that everyone thinks about that, but it really is a barrier."

Other barriers Kneusel sees include a lack of access to technology to find and book appointments, and finding clinics where employees speak Spanish. Feeling safe is crucial, she said. 

Brandy said she continues to hear accessibility is a problem. 

“The biggest thing that we hear is that barrier through ID and insurance and just that perception that it’s required and we continue to put out messaging that it’s not,” she said. 

According to the KFF survey, four in 10 Hispanic adults said they were worried about needing to show an ID. That concern is more common if they may be undocumented. 

How to increase vaccination rates

CDPHE is utilizing vaccine buses to target those who have yet to get a shot to try to bring the treatment closer to unvaccinated people. Brandy said 15,000 people have been vaccinated with the fleet. A ninth bus was deployed in June 2021. Another key part of the agency’s strategy is to partner with trusted community organizations.

Kneusel plays a role in that strategy by bringing COVID-19 vaccines to places where she knows people feel safe, like Nuestra Señora Madre de la Iglesia -- a  Catholic church in Commerce City.

"...We have also intentionally kept them smaller because we wanted to avoid issues with traffic and other things where potentially law enforcement would have to get involved," Kneusel said. 

She is a nurse with Centura Health and a vaccine champion for CDPHE. Kneusel said her background makes the work even more meaningful to her.

"I think that my ability to connect and relate and be able to give them reliable information that they can trust," she said. 

“There’s sort of this myth out there that Latinos don’t want to get vaccinated and that’s really not true," she said. “I think they just don’t have access to the information they need to make a decision they feel comfortable with.” 

Kneusel said the goal of the clinic is to provide a more personal experience where people feel comfortable asking questions if they had any. By the end of the day’s clinic, Kneusel said 5,000 Latinos would be vaccinated. 

Douglas, who's withTri-County Health said vaccinating everyone also stops dangerous COVID-19 variants from gaining a foothold. 

"We’re all in it together, so if that community is not vaccinated,  everybody is at greater risk because even though the vaccines are very effective, among the most effective we’ve had 95% is still not 100% and if there’s virus circulating, there’s still a risk of getting a breakthrough infection,” he said. 

The Delta variant of COVID-19 is more contagious and more likely to send people to the hospital. CDPHE said the Delta variant is becoming more common in Colorado. 

RELATED: Why health experts are nervous about the new Delta variant

RELATED: Colorado has 2nd most Delta variant cases in US, health officials say

That gives Douglas more urgency to get more people vaccinated as soon as possible. 

“The new variant, delta, has really upped my anxiety level,” Douglas said. “So there is just a perfect storm of incredibly important reason[s] for anybody who’s been thinking about it to go ahead and step up and get the vaccine.” 

According to State Epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy, the vaccine is effective against the Delta variant.

See the data yourself:

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