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Louisiana’s Hispanic vaccination rate is above other ethnic groups

Published: Feb. 18, 2022 at 11:15 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 23, 2022 at 11:56 AM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - At the tail end of the Delta variant’s surge, Julia Magnani was doing her part to keep herself and the families she babysits for safe from COVID-19.

“I am constantly checking myself for COVID because children are transmitters,” Magnani said. “I worked around children and I had to make sure I wasn’t bringing the virus from one house to another.”

However, she had to put her job on hold close to the holidays when she started feeling sick one Saturday morning.

“I just had a sore throat, nothing else,” she said.

She knew she had to get a COVID-19 test before heading back to work, but she didn’t have extra cash or could even find at-home tests at nearby pharmacies.

Magnani is also a native of Bolivia and primarily speaks Spanish. She says it was impossible to find any public sites with interpreters that were open on the weekend.

“We need guides, guides that can let us know what to do in Spanish,” she said.

Magnani’s issues are common ones within the Hispanic community, and grew more pertinent throughout the pandemic. She says COVID-19 opened her eyes to the lack of non-English health information and resources readily available.

But she thanks the organizations, like Unión Migrante, who have stepped up for the region’s Hispanic and immigrant communities.

For the past month, the immigrant rights group has operated their own site every Thursday evening at the First Unitarian Universalist Church off of Claiborne Ave. The all-volunteer group has handed out hundreds of tests through bad weather and at-home testing shortages.

Their focus is to provide free COVID-19 care and information to people who they believe are essential to the workforce during a timeframe when they are off from work.

“We are the only ones out here doing this kind of work,” volunteer Olga Tiburcio said.

Organizers say they want to give back to a group of people who might be scared to access typical health care due to fears of deportation or other backlash.

“Immigrants have kept our economy running through the pandemic,” volunteer Rachel Taber said. “They have been running the meat factories, they’ve been harvesting our food in the fields.”

Unión Migrante’s effort stretch beyond the site. Volunteers offer an at-home test delivery service and battle misinformation about the pandemic and the vaccine through Facebook lives on their page.

However, they aren’t the only organization with a focus on helping immigrants. The Mexican Consulate in New Orleans offers their own health care at their office in the Warehouse District.

“When it comes to health, we are open to the whole Hispanic community.” New Orleans’ Consul General of Mexico, Maria Patricia Deluera, said.

Every Friday morning, the Consulate offers free testing and periodically, clinics will help set up vaccine sites for any walk-ins.

“We have had more than a thousand people vaccinated through the Consulate,” Miguel Angel Ferreira said.

Ferreira has been tasked with organizing the Consulate’s response to the virus and even partnering with hospital systems and clinics to set up mobile sites in Hispanic-heavy neighborhoods throughout Louisiana and Mississippi.

It’s part of the mission to meet Hispanics where they are and when they are available.

“(Hispanics) are working in hospitality. They are working in grocery stores. They are working in malls. They are wage workers and because of the type of work that they do, they could not work remotely,” Dr. Shantel Hébert-Magee said.

Hébert-Magee is the Louisiana Department of Health’s medical director for the New Orleans region. She has worked to provide resources at the department’s testing and vaccination sites to help people feel comfortable with medical care.

“Sometimes we’re targeting the Vietnamese community. Sometimes we’re targeting the Latinx community Sometimes we’re targeting the African-American community,” she said.

She says sometimes her efforts are simple but effective - like playing certain music to calm people’s nerves or providing coloring books for children while parents get their COVID-19 tests. But the most important resource is having an interpreter on-site to break any language barriers.

Hébert-Magee says finding someone who can speak certain languages and dialects can be challenging at times, but it’s an even harder task for small, local clinics like NOELA Community Health Center - especially during surges.

“Every single time that one of our employees goes positive, then we have nobody to replace them immediately,” Jose Flores, Quality Improvement Director, said.

Finding the perfect way to get information, tests, and vaccines to the Hispanic community has been challenging, like with other minority groups. However, through a lot of adversity and hard work, health care workers were able to get shots into arms at a high rate.

“The yield is higher in our Hispanic population compared African-American and the White population in the state of Louisiana,” Hébert-Magee said.

According to numbers from the Louisiana State Health Department, about 54% of the state’s Hispanic community is fully vaccinated - which is about 135,000 people. But some healthcare providers hope that number could be higher.

“It’s very low, very low. Because the ability to get vaccinated has been there,” Ferreira said.

Ferreira says that one of the challenges has been the fight against misinformation and lack of correct information on social media. Those were some of the reasons why New Orleans City Councilmember Helena Moreno made it a personal mission to create the Hispanic Taskforce at the start of the pandemic.

‘This is the largest growing population in the city of New Orleans and also in Jefferson Parish. So they cannot be ignored and they will not be ignored,” Moreno said.

The task force uses the combined efforts of New Orleans, Jefferson Parish, hospital systems, Spanish media outlets, advocacy groups, and faith-based organizations like the Hispanic Apostolate. The group organized sites at its Kenner office or at areas with a heavy Hispanic presence across the region.

“We were able to offer many churches and places so that Hispanics wouldn’t feel scared or have any cultural barriers,” Fr. Sergio Serrano, O.P., Director of Hispanic Apostolate, said.

That’s the mentality the task force wants to keep up for the rest of the pandemic and now with so much access into the Hispanic community, organizers want to possibly expand the coalition for emergencies beyond COVID-19.

“Now as we hopefully start to evolve out of this pandemic, the task force, I believe should evolve as well,” Moreno said.

And with a growing amount of health care options and resources for Hispanics, Magnani hopes more people consider rolling up their sleeves and severing as role models for the rest of the community.

“I got the vaccine to protect myself and others and I would appreciate it if others decided to do the same,” she said.

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