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ISU Team Contributes To National Research On Vaccine Attitudes In Communities Of Color

American Falls Dam
Matt Guilhem
Boise State Public Radio
American Falls, Idaho

Professors and students at Idaho State University recently partnered with Johns Hopkins University on a national research project studying vaccine attitudes in communities of color across the country.

The project is called CommuniVax and one of its goals is to understand the barriers people in Black and Hispanic communities face in getting the COVID-19 vaccine, particularly because those communities have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

There were six project sites from Maryland to California, and one, led by the team at ISU, was in rural Aberdeen and American Falls, where about a third of the population is Hispanic.

In March and April, professors and students interviewed 41 people in eastern Idaho and led three focus groups.

“People were pretty positive about [the vaccine],” said Liz Cartwright, a professor of anthropology at ISU who co-led the Idaho research. “There was very little hesitancy and there was very little talking about conspiracy theories and things like that.”

At the time, 40% of the interviewees had been vaccinated, and more people were interested in getting the vaccine once they would become eligible.

That aligns with national research from a couple months ago which found Hispanic adults who had not been vaccinated said they wanted to get the shot at higher rates than White adults.

Hispanic people account for 11% of vaccine recipients in Idaho for whom ethnicity is known, though they make up roughly 13% of the state population. And the state doesn’t have the ethnicity recorded for about a third of people vaccinated.

Cartwright said Aberdeen and American Falls were hit hard by the virus last winter, as was Mexico, where many in the Hispanic and Latino communities in Idaho have family.

“Everybody is using social media and so they were getting really bad stories out of Mexico, too,” she said.

According to Cartwright, fear of the virus was one reason the participants were eager to get vaccinated. Another was economic concerns.

“People didn't want to get sick because they needed to work and they were really worried about losing time off from work,” she said.

Work ended up being a major discussion point in the qualitative interviews the team conducted.

Edgar Carrasco, a student at ISU majoring in Spanish for health professions, did 11 of the research interviews, all in Spanish. He found almost all the people he talked to who were working in agriculture or food processing were vaccinated.

“They said that they either got it from work or their work set up the appointment for them to go get it,” he said.

While the workers themselves were vaccinated, their family members were less likely to be, Carrasco noticed. This made him think the employer-based clinics were important to getting the vaccine to at least a portion of the community.

“I felt like, if this medium wasn’t proposed, then they most likely wouldn’t have gotten vaccinated,” he said.

He said in rural areas, employer-based clinics could be expanded to more community members.

One of the barriers people faced was information, the ISU team found. Some people were less likely to want to go to a public health clinic because of immigration concerns. So the project encouraged Southeastern Idaho Public Health to distribute a flier in Spanish, assuring people that no personal information would be collected.

The public health district staff, who regularly met with the ISU professors and students over the course of their research, said it also ended up preparing more information about the vaccine in Spanish for the students to distribute.

People in the community tended to get information about the vaccine through their personal networks, Cartwright and Carrasco said. This worked both ways — facilitating the spread of unfounded rumors, but also encouraging people to get the vaccine, like when a local Catholic priest recommended it to his congregation.

For Carrasco, his conversations emphasized the need for more resources for the Hispanic and Latino communities in Idaho.

“As this community is increasing, I think we should start looking at resources to target their vulnerabilities,” he said.

He mentioned the California’s cash aid program for undocumented residents as an example.

Carrasco, who is from Pocatello, is in training to become a respiratory therapist and has a goal of going to medical school. He wants to practice medicine in underserved communities.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

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