By Chris Branam
Oregon State University is accelerating its local outreach to improve confidence in COVID-19 vaccines in the state’s Latinx population, which has been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and whose vaccination rate lags behind other races and ethnicities.
The OSU Extension Service, through its Family and Community Health Program in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences, received two grants totaling about $225,000 to coordinate statewide educational efforts and to focus specifically on Benton, Lincoln, Linn, Hood River and Wasco counties. Faculty in two other Extension programs – 4-H Youth Development and Juntos – are collaborating on the project.
Oregon’s Latinx population represents almost a third of all COVID-19 cases for which ethnicity is reported, according to the Oregon Health Authority. About 13% of the state’s population identifies as Hispanic or Latinx. As of June 11, the Latinx vaccination percentage stood at 41% – the lowest of any racial or ethnic group. Overall, 64% of the state’s adult population had been vaccinated at that point.
“Our immediate goal is to work with our local and state partners to help to minimize vaccine hesitancy among the state’s Latinx population by promoting positive messages delivered by trusted messengers,” says Roberta Riportella, Family and Community Health Program leader and associate dean of the College of Public Health and Human Sciences, who is serving as the principal investigator on the grants.
Over the last year, OSU Extension employees have been working with community partners and local businesses in some counties to provide COVID-19 resources in Spanish. In Lincoln County, Extension helped produce urgent video communications in Spanish and Mam – a language spoken by Guatemalans who immigrated to the Oregon Coast. In the Columbia River Gorge, a team of community organizations that included Extension mobilized for the 2020 and 2021 harvest seasons to support migrant and seasonal farm workers.
Recently, a series of public service announcements started airing on radio stations in the Gorge. The PSAs were developed by Lauren Kraemer, assistant professor of practice in the Family and Community Health Program and the College of Public Health and Human Sciences, with a community partner using messaging targeted to people who haven’t been vaccinated. They will soon be airing in Spanish.
“Current evidence suggests that the Latinx population in Oregon has limited access to timely, evidence-based vaccine-related information that is tailored specifically to their concerns and cultural and linguistic needs,” Roberta says. “Additionally, vaccine confidence is complicated by longstanding medical mistrust, experience of racism in the health care system and significant targeted misinformation, especially through social media platforms.”
According to Roberta, a factor undermining vaccine confidence and uptake among Oregon’s Latinx population are barriers to access – inconvenient clinic times or locations, complexity of appointment scheduling and limited initial supply.
Planned efforts under the grant include:
- Conducting interviews at churches, vaccine sites, local community centers and other gathering places to better understand the specifics of vaccine hesitancy in the Latinx populations. These include determining both the appeal of different content approaches in radio and other media communications and how Latinx populations consume mass media and social media.
- Deploying local Latinx navigators – “friendly faces” – to help people sign up for vaccines, work at vaccine clinics and help promote pro-vaccine social norms through community outreach.
- Engaging community-based partners, 4-H members and volunteers and Open Campus Juntos family networks in the co-creation and dissemination of linguistically and culturally tailored resources such as videos for posting on YouTube and Facebook and television, radio and social media content.
OSU received the grants through the Extension Collaborative on Immunization Teaching & Engagement (EXCITE), an initiative of the Extension Foundation, U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.