Experts: Now Kane County needs people Hispanics trust to persuade them to get vaccinations
Addressing the disparity in Kane County Hispanic residents receiving COVID-19 shots will take recruiting people they trust to help dispel deep-rooted misconceptions about the vaccine's safety, county elected officials and health experts said Wednesday.
About 20% of vaccinations in the county have gone to Hispanic residents, but about one-third of county residents are Hispanic, according to the latest Illinois Department of Public Health data.
New data shows county officials successfully addressed an uptick in COVID-19 infections last month. In the last 31 days, only four days saw a rise in the test positivity rate. The number of people hospitalized by COVID-19 remained stable or dropped over the same period.
More than half of all county residents between 16 and 64 have received at least one vaccine shot so far in the county.
But the number of vaccines going to Black and Hispanic residents, compared to their white neighbors, is less than county health officials want to see. And it's no longer a problem of vaccine supply -- the county has thousands of doses and more coming in.
Placing mass vaccination sites and pop-up clinics in areas with the densest minority populations has addressed a few percentage points of the disparity.
County board member Monica Silva said the county and media did their job in getting word out about vaccine availability. The problem is not a lack of marketing.
"It's a matter of distrust," Silva said. "I have highly educated friends who just won't get the vaccine. Everybody knows the vaccines are out there. They are just making decisions not to take it. It's a matter of addressing these more fundamental beliefs."
Many of those beliefs are rooted in false information, propaganda or a history of bad experiences with government officials. Michael Isaacson, the county's assistant director for community health, said there must be a targeted effort to address that with correct information that comes from trusted sources.
"We can't dismiss people's beliefs," Isaacson told the county board's public health committee. "When we hear concerns about things like trackers being included (in the vaccines), it's easy to laugh off, but it's important to get accurate information to people. These things that don't make sense to us, these are serious considerations to our local families."
Board member Jarett Sanchez said another problem is the mistaken belief that vaccination clinics are targeted for deportation raids.
"This is a fear founded in a history of distrust in government and immigration policies," Sanchez said. "We know for a fact, 100%, you will not be deported if you come get vaccinated. We're not even checking IDs at the sites. There's no coordination going on with other federal agencies and the vaccination offerings."
It's going to take many one-on-one conversations, led by trusted influencers like school principals, faith leaders and relatives who've had successful experiences getting the vaccine to break through the distrust and propaganda, Isaacson said.
The health department is working with local community colleges, school districts and churches to set up pop-up clinics targeting residents who are most reluctant to get a shot. Such venues are more comfortable and trusted by Black and Hispanic residents than the existing mass vaccination sites.
The county also now has ZIP code-level vaccination data from the state that will allow health officials to zero in on neighborhoods most bereft of vaccinated residents.