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Language Barrier, Misinformation Are Hurdles To Vaccinate Latinx Community

A group of farm workers traveled from Lake County to the Wolstein Center in Cleveland Wed., March 31, 2021 to receive COVID-19 vaccines. [Lisa Ryan / ideastream]
A group of farm workers traveled from Lake County to the Wolstein Center in Cleveland Wed., March 31, 2021 to receive COVID-19 vaccines. [Lisa Ryan / ideastream]

A group of 21 Spanish-speaking farmworkers received COVID-19 vaccines Wednesday at the Wolstein Center in downtown Cleveland.

One of the Cleveland-area community organizations working to help increase the number of minorities getting the vaccine connected this group to the mass vaccination site. 

According to U.S. census data, Hispanics represent about 4 percent of Ohio's population, and about 13 percent of those already vaccinated in Ohio are Hispanic or Latino, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

HOLA Ohio, a nonprofit group based in Painesville, which advocates for the Hispanic and Latino populations, is one of the groups that has been working hard to get people in the Latinx community vaccinated.

Its founder and director Veronica Dahlberg said they’ve been working nonstop since the pandemic started to bring information to the primarily Spanish-speaking community, and that work has now shifted to signing people up to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Even for somebody who speaks perfect English, it’s a barrier if you try to go online,” Dahlberg said. “It’s really hard to navigate the whole system.”

So Dahlberg and the staff and volunteers at HOLA have been working to get people signed up and educated them about the vaccines.

Vaccinating everyone quickly is important to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and its variants, which may be more infectious, according to public health experts.

“We don’t want the Hispanic community to be suffering the brunt of those infections because they're hesitant to get the vaccine,” Dahlberg said. “We’re working as quickly as we can.”

Some of those vaccines were given out in partnerships with community leaders like HOLA, which received vaccine appointments at the Wolstein Center specifically for the people they serve.

Dahlberg said the mass vaccination site at Wolstein has translators, which have been helpful in getting the Spanish-speaking community vaccinated.

“In fact, we made sure today that there would be interpreters to help and there were, so everything is very well organized there,” Dahlberg said.

She’s been working with Lake and Huron counties’ health departments, and officials there have helped her schedule mobile clinics to meet many in the Hispanic or Latino communities where they are.

Translators are also needed at those mobile sites.

“We have trained interpreters who sign confidentiality agreements, so it’s very professionally done," she said. 

Some employers who have vaccination clinics want to use employees to translate, which could be difficult because of privacy issues or lead to misinformation if the person translating doesn’t have a strong medical vocabulary, Dahlberg said.

Along with fighting misinformation and breaking down language barriers, she’s also trying to provide information to those who are hesitant about receiving the vaccine. Some people will make the vaccine appointment but cancel later.

“We have to counteract the misinformation that’s spread on social media,” she said. “Then we have people who are just generally scared of needles and they get into a panic, and we have to try to talk and walk them through that.”

Dahlberg is fighting many battles in getting people vaccinated, but she credits her staff and volunteers with signing people up to get the vaccine, transporting them to appointments, and providing language services and many other resources to the Hispanic and Latino communities.

lisa.ryan@ideastream.org | 216-916-6158