Statewide, California is closer than ever to having control over the pandemic and returning to a new normal. To date, the state has administered over 40 million vaccines, and Covid-19 cases have plummeted to the lowest levels since the pandemic first started 16 months ago. Yet despite this progress, much work remains to be done to close the racial and regional disparities that persist statewide.
Community leaders like Ruth Lopez are working hard to address disparities that leave some workers and families more vulnerable to getting sick than others. Lopez is the executive director of Valley Voices, a grassroots organization based in Kings County that is dedicated to empowering Latinos to become civically engaged in the Central Valley. In her vaccine outreach work, she is focused on ensuring that those that have been historically excluded from the state’s healthcare system get culturally relevant information about the vaccines, as well as reliable guidance navigating the vaccine appointment system. This means zeroing in on immigrants, farmworkers, and Californians living in rural and often over-looked regions of the state.
Since California first started getting shots into the arms of all eligible residents (ages 12 and up), the Central Valley has consistently experienced the slowest vaccination rates in the state. In Kings County, for example, only 26.5 percent of residents are fully vaccinated—that’s about half of the rate of those fully vaccinated statewide.
Lopez, who is a native of Kings County, is leveraging her expertise in grassroots civic engagement to increase vaccination rates. Here’s what she says is working:
Tapping into the Community’s Trust
As a grassroots organization that seeks to civically engage the county’s most underserved residents, Valley Voices has built a strong reputation for itself that is facilitating trust among community members hesitant to get vaccinated. “This summer we are going to continue to knock on doors, and if they’re not home we’ll leave behind literature,” she states., “Iit’s the same thing as a GOTV strategy—you don’t just knock once, you have to do a couple of rounds.” As the state’s economy fully reopens this month, Lopez hopes this Get-Out-the-Vote approach will help increase vaccine acceptance in the community.
Meeting the Community Where They Are
Lack of internet connectivity remains an issue for the families most impacted by the pandemic in Kings County and beyond. In response, Lopez sets up weekly pop-up sites in the community’s popular flea market, known locally as The Remate, to help individuals set up vaccination appointments on the spot. “We meet the community where they are,” says Lopez., “We’re there every week, and they know exactly where to find us.”
Each week, Lopez and her team interact with hundreds of people at The Remate, where they provide information on the vaccines, and provide workers with personal protective equipment (PPE). They also often have a doctor on-site to answer health-related questions about the vaccine.
Leveraging Cultural Competency
When it comes to educating King County’s hard-to-reach communities on the importance of getting vaccinated, trusted messengers make all the difference. “Having a Latino or Latina to have these conversations puts community members more at ease,” says Lopez, who is frequently addressing misinformation and responding to the community’s questions about the Covid-19 vaccine. “They know they can trust us and they we have their back.”
Written by Eduardo García, Senior Policy Manager at the Latino Community Foundation.