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Advocates push for COVID vaccine in Oregon's hard-hit Latinx communities

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Oregon's Latinx population has been disproportionately impacted.

PORTLAND, Oregon — One of Oregon's hardest hit communities in the pandemic is waiting for the coronavirus vaccine.

Dr. Eva Galvez at Virginia Garcia Medical Center in Washington County is getting a lot of questions from patients. 

"Is the vaccine safe, what are the long term risks?" she described.

Virginia Garcia largely serves Latinx frontline and migrant workers in the county.

"They have been the backbone of the food and agriculture industry," Galvez said. "And if we are going to ask them to continue to work in these essential jobs, we need to protect them."

"Without members of our community, people wouldn't have food on their tables," agreed Veronica Leonard of the group Latino Network.

Leonard said since the beginning of the pandemic, Oregon's Latinx and Hispanic populations have been disproportionately impacted. While those groups make up about 13% of the state population, they have consistently made up about 30-40% of COVID-19 cases.

"What that means is by getting the vaccine to our community members, we will then help ensure the broader community stays safe," Leonard said.

Both Leonard and Galvez noted many Latinx people live in multigenerational homes, meaning spread to other family members is more common.

RELATED: Most COVID-19 cases come from household transmission, Washington County warns

Equity with health care is also a concern.

"Many of our patients are undocumented," Galvez said. "So often times, they're not able to access health care services."

Some people opt not to seek medical care, fearing personal information will be sent to the government.

Now, Latinx community groups and medical professionals are also working to dispel misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine.

"We don't really have a lot of accurate information in a language and literacy level that our community can understand," Galvez said. "So it's easy to go to other sources for information. Many of my patients are going to social media platforms or talking with their friends. And often times that information is not accurate."

Galvez said vaccine hesitancy is a problem within other communities, too, but consistent and culturally relevant messaging is still a barrier for some Latinx people. 

Health departments such as Washington County Department of Health and Human Services and other advocacy groups around the state have worked for months on Spanish outreach.

Latino Network is also pushing for a seat at the table with OHA to help decide how vaccines are distributed when they become more available. It put in a request to Multnomah County to allow vaccinations at its weekly outdoor COVID-19 testing clinics for Latinx people at its Rockwood location.

For all of these groups and doctors in the meantime, the wait and hard work continue.

"My parents are immigrants," Galvez said. "The work that I do is caring for the community that shaped me...Through health and education, we could definitely improve our quality of life."

RELATED: Free COVID-19 testing offered to Latinx community in Portland