COVID-19 vaccine distribution falls behind for Latino population in Kern

February 22, 2021 /

Despite Latinos making up an overwhelming majority of Kern’s COVID-19 cases and deaths, less than a quarter of the vaccines administered in Kern have been given to Latinos, according to state data.

These numbers show disproportionality, as more than 50 percent of Kern’s population identifies as Latino or Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Kern County has administered 104,270 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Of those vaccines, 32.9 percent have been administered to people who identify as white, while 23.2 percent have been administered to those who identify as Latino, according to the California Department of Public Health.

Hispanics make up 60 percent of the COVID-19 cases that have been identified in Kern and make up 60 percent of Kern’s COVID-19 related deaths. And Kern is not alone in this trend. The Latino population continues to be disproportionately impacted by the virus across the state, and many wonder why the population is not receiving the vaccination at higher rates.

Hugo Ramirez, the Director of Programs at Vision Y Compromiso, oversees programs across the Central Valley and noticed Latino communities did not receive enough information from trusted messengers regarding the vaccine when it first came out. Much of the Latino community was hesitant to receive the vaccine due to lack of information, he said.

However, he has noticed a change in views among the population.

“Now they have been hearing how effective the vaccine is,” Ramirez said. “When it opened to those 65 and older, they started looking for it, but we didn’t have enough supply.”

Jay Tamsi, the cofounder of Kern’s COVID-19 Latino Task Force, said he has heard much frustration from the Latino population and essential workers, such as farmworkers, regarding the vaccine.

“Aubelitos want to see their grandchildren, go to the store, parents want their children safely go back to school and want to see their teens experience a high school formal, prom and graduate,” said Tamsi. “Our culture believes in unity, family and celebrations, and that’s has not been the norm for one year.”

Tamsi continue: “Our nation is dealing with a shortage of vaccinations, so the numbers do not surprise me…Am I disappointed in the roll-out, absolutely, especially for our Latino community.”

Kern’s rural communities that are predominantly Hispanic are some of the communities that have been hit the hardest and have the least amount of supply.

In Wasco, 82 percent of the population is Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. As of Monday, nearly 19 percent of the city’s population had contracted COVID-19, according to data from the Kern County Public Health Department, making Wasco one of the hardest hit cities in Kern.

However, there are just two locations in Wasco where residents can obtain a COVID-19 vaccination. Both locations, Omni Family Health and Vanguard Medical, bill insurance for COVID-19 vaccines, making the administration fee $0; however, this might change depending on the insurance and where you go. If residents don’t have health insurance, Omni Family Health won’t charge the patient an administration fee, but Vanguard requires a cash payment from the patient.

In Arvin — a community where 94 percent of the population is Hispanic — just over 13 percent of the city’s population has contacted COVID-19. However, there is not a single vaccination site in the city. The closest sites are Clinica Sierra Vista in Lamont and Lamont Primary Care Clinic.

Like Vanguard, Lamont Primary Care Clinic requires those who do not have health insurance to pay an administration fee of $35.00 to receive the vaccine. This is a big consideration for many families. Nearly 12 percent of people living in Arvin do not have health insurance, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This means it would cost $140.00 for a family of four that is uninsured to become vaccinated at Lamont Primary Care Clinic.

To bring some relief to Arvin, Clinica Sierra Vista plans to bring a vaccination site to the city soon, according to Tim Calahan, the director of public relations at Clinica Sierra Vista. Although there is no set date, Arvin will be part of a rotating vaccination clinic, along with Lamont, Greenfield, East Bakersfield, Frasier Park and Kern River Valley. The clinic will hit each community once a week, Calahan said.

“As supplies increase, with more on the way, we will be opening up in Arvin and Delano,” said Calahan.

A few local organizations are working hard to get the Latino population vaccinated. Promotoras with Vision Y Compromiso are helping with ongoing outreach efforts to educate the Latino population on the vaccine, Ramirez said. Now that farmworkers are eligible to receive the vaccine, promotoras are heading to the agricultural fields this week to begin educating farmworkers on the vaccine.

The organization is also going door-to-door and to local businesses to provide information on the vaccine, testing, and precautions necessary to stay safe during the pandemic and to provide personal protective equipment. They are also providing virtual education presentations to businesses and communities on this information.

“We have seen an increase in Latino families who want to get the vaccine now that information is getting to them,” said Ramirez.

Tamsi is also advocating for vaccination clinics to be open in the evenings and on Sundays to provide more access to agricultural workers, who work during the week and on Saturdays.

“We as a Latino Task Force have and will continue to advocate with the Governor’s office to allocate Kern with more vaccines as they become available to our State,” said Tamsi. “Our Latino community wants to take the vaccine.”

Featured photo: The Covid 19 indoor vaccination facility at the Kern County Fair Grounds has been operating but an outdoor drive through facility has been built at the Fair Grounds and will greatly increase the capacity to vaccinate when it opens. Photo courtesy of Henry Barrios for Kern Sol News.

Elizabeth Sanchez

Elizabeth Sanchez

Elizabeth Sanchez is the program associate for South Kern Sol. She can be reached at elizabeth@southkernsol.org.