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Here’s why former vaccine-hesitant are changing their minds

Transportation, translation and a reliable source of vaccine information are among the barriers, but public health officials and a new initiative are working to overcome this.

The El Milagro Clinic in McAllen, Texas has played a crucial role in ensuring that patients get the correct vaccine information and stick to their appointments.

Retired worker Zeferino Cantu is diabetic, has high blood pressure and has no health insurance, but has waited months to get the shot. He finally received his first injection at the clinic last week because he is more concerned about the virus than the side effects of the vaccine.

Speaking in Spanish, Cantu told CNN that the coronavirus is more dangerous because it can affect everything, even your mental capacity.

The South Texas clinic is one of 100 free and charitable clinics in 16 states that have received a financial boost from the Finish Line project. The initiative aims to gain access to the “hard to reach unvaccinated” vaccine. Since the initiative’s launch in June, more than 115,000 people have been vaccinated, according to Joe Agoada, CEO of Project Finish Line and Sostento.

South Texas, a predominantly Latin American region, has been hit hard by the pandemic. And nationally, Latinos have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic, but have been vaccinated at rates far lower than white Americans. When the Covid-19 vaccine was initially approved, some Latinos were skeptical and worried it would make them sick.

Latinos are among the only two groups under-represented in vaccinations relative to their share of the U.S. population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Latinos make up 17.2% of the US population, but 16.7% of fully vaccinated people and Blacks make up 12.4% of the US population but only 10.1% of fully vaccinated people.
Earlier in the vaccine rollout, only a small percentage of vaccine vendors were predominantly Latino ZIP codes in Texas. There are fewer providers in rural areas, which has led some Texans to travel long distances to get vaccinated.

The importance of deep community ties

Sylvia Aguilar knows Cantu, the retired worker very well.

“He always told me I would come back. I will be back, I’m not ready,” said El Milagro Clinic’s eligibility administrator.

Several months later, he returned as the already hit-hard city of the pandemic experienced an increase like other parts of the United States because of the Delta variant.

Here’s why former vaccine-hesitant are changing their minds

Families are getting sick and scared, Aguilar says. They don’t know where to go – a common obstacle here to vaccinating those who need it most.

The US Department of Health and Human Services estimates that about 44% of refractory vaccines are persuasive, but even they can be difficult to convince.

“I wanted to see the reaction of others before I got it,” says Juan Manuel Salinas. “If they were okay, then I would.”

Salinas just got their second shot.

And although the 55-year-old racehorse trainer’s daughter worked at the clinic, it took months for her to persuade her dad to make an appointment and stick to him.

Here’s why former vaccine-hesitant are changing their minds

“He had all the resources. I would say, do you want me to come and pick you up? We do it for free here at the clinic and he was like ‘yes I’m going. I’ll go,’” Bree Salinas said. , her daughter and a finance director at the clinic, said.

On a mission to vaccinate a million

In June, the Finish Line project was launched by Sostento. The non-profit organization was founded in 2019 to address the opioid crisis and serve marginalized and disadvantaged communities. The organization joined the pandemic response last year to facilitate access to care and testing.

“What we hope to achieve is get access to the vaccine for those who are on the fence,” Agoada said. “I call them ‘the unvaccinated but consenting’.

In some communities, concerns about vaccination are not related to the vaccine itself. Some common reasons are lack of transportation and fear of taking time off work.

Agoada explains how the association partnered with a poultry factory in Georgia to set up a pop-up clinic. Workers were able to get vaccinated on a Saturday and were able to take Sunday off work if there were side effects such as fatigue.

Here’s why former vaccine-hesitant are changing their minds

The initiative also provides money for pop-up vaccinations in rural areas such as Muniz, Texas, community outreach hotlines, and even helps organize free rides provided by Uber.

“We hear about people taking the bus to and from work every day who can’t take a day off and they really need help overcoming this transportation barrier,” Agoada said.

And for clinics like McAllen’s, persistence and patience work the best.

“It gets to the point where the staff feels like they sounded like a broken record,” said Marisol Resendez, executive director of the El Milagro clinic.

“They will come, there are a lot of people who are willing not to have the tools, the information and the resources.”

Carolyn Sung of CNN contributed to this report.