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Many Latinos Don't Think Getting A COVID-19 Vaccine Is A Good Idea

NOEL KING, HOST:

Americans in general are becoming more willing to get the COVID-19 vaccine. That's according to a new poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation. But Brenda Leon, a reporter with Connecticut Public Radio, found that Latinos are often more skeptical than the general population. Here's why.

BRENDA LEON, BYLINE: Distrust of the medical system for Deicin Garcia (ph) goes back to when she arrived from Mexico 15 years ago as an undocumented teenager. She and her family came to pick tobacco on a ranch about half an hour's drive north of Hartford.

DEICIN GARCIA: (Speaking Spanish).

LEON: "When I started working in the tobacco fields, we hardly ever went to the doctor. I don't believe anyone spoke about health insurance either," she says. After she got permanent status, she trained to become a community health worker and now helps new mothers learn about the benefits of breastfeeding. Even though Garcia recently had COVID-19, she's not convinced getting vaccinated is a good idea.

GARCIA: (Speaking Spanish).

LEON: "I'm afraid I'll have a negative reaction to the vaccine," she says. And she's not alone in being hesitant. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation survey, more than half of Latino adults are in no rush to get vaccinated. Liany Arroyo is the director of Hartford's local health department. She says many Latino residents have historical reasons to be skeptical. She recalls the Tuskegee experiment in the mid-20th century, when Black men were deliberately not treated for syphilis so researchers could study them.

LIANY ARROYO: But there are also things that happened in the Latino community that we don't necessarily always talk about.

LEON: Like the experiments in the 1940s, where the U.S. Public Health Service used sex workers to expose prisoners in Guatemalan jails with sexually transmitted diseases, or in the 1950s, where Puerto Rican women from low-income communities were given experimental birth control pills without being told they were part of a clinical trial. Arroyo says her department is aware that some people don't want their personal information shared with the federal government.

ARROYO: And so for us, if someone is undocumented and does not feel comfortable having all of their information in this database, then we're going to work with them to put only the information that's absolutely necessary.

LEON: Connecticut has made COVID vaccines free. And anyone can receive them regardless of immigration status or whether they have insurance coverage.

JORGE MORENO: (Speaking Spanish).

LEON: That's Dr. Jorge Moreno, an internist and an assistant professor at the Yale School of Medicine. He made this YouTube video describing his experience getting the COVID-19 vaccine because he says members of the Latino community want to hear from a trusted source.

MORENO: There was very little information available in Spanish. And there was little information available from Hispanic providers that could speak the language, that could relate, give their experience about the vaccine.

LEON: Back in her home, Garcia is still recovering from COVID-19, supporting breastfeeding moms remotely. Some have asked for her thoughts about the vaccine.

GARCIA: (Speaking Spanish).

LEON: The truth is, when I'm asked about the vaccine, I share information but not my own views. Her own view is in line with the 9% of Latinos in America who say they would only get the vaccine if their job required it.

For NPR News, I'm Brenda Leon in Hartford.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEQUERBOARD'S "DUNES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.