Experts warn of the importance of vaccines to reduce hospitalizations and the number of deaths among the Hispanic community, the most affected by the pandemic.
After caring for numerous members of Latinx families, who one by one fell ill to the rapid spread of COVID-19, Dr. Verónica Ramírez of Martin Luther King Community Hospital in Los Angeles saw the opportunity to get vaccinated as a way to “show others how to begin to take control of this pandemic.”
“I have seen how this disease has affected our community,” said Ramírez, who has already received two injections of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, after which he was left with “a slight pain in the arm, a little fatigue and a headache.”
Ramírez spoke with Latinx media as part of the Vaccinate All 58 campaign, which seeks to vaccinate all residents of the 58 California counties. To date, more than a million Californians have already received the free vaccine against COVID-19 and mega vaccination centers have been installed in places like Dodger Stadium, Petco Park and Cal Expo.
“We know that there may be minor side effects after vaccination, but these are not harmful, they are a sign that the immune response is working,” said Ramírez. Even after being inoculated, Ramírez still continues to wear face masks and eye protection when caring for COVID patients because, as she explained, not only does it take time for the body to develop all the antibodies necessary to face the virus, but there are no solid studies that ensure that vaccinated people cannot continue to transmit it.
“According to the Pfizer study after the first dose, the level of protection is 52 percent and after the second dose, it reaches 95 percent…it is important that people [after vaccination] continue to take their precautions,” such as washing hands, wearing face masks and maintaining social distancing.
Both vaccines approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) were tested in tens of thousands of adults of various backgrounds, including elders and members of ethnic communities. In both cases, its effectiveness in developing immunity against the virus is 95 percent, which is why medical experts consider it “safe and effective.”
Participants in the clinical trials for the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine—whose two doses must be administered at least 21 days apart in people over 16—were composed of 13 percent Hispanics, 10 percent African Americans, 6 percent Asians, 1 percent Native Americans and 45 percent were ages 56-85.
In the case of the Moderna vaccine—whose doses must be administered at least 28 days apart in people over 18—the population sample included 20 percent Hispanics, 10 percent African Americans, 4 percent Asians and 25 percent of the participants were over 65.
“Vaccines are the hope of ending this pandemic,” said Dr. Tomás Aragón, director of the California State Department of Public Health, recalling that members of the Latinx community have been the most affected by COVID-19.
As of Jan. 21, California had more than 3 million COVID-19 cases and more than 35,000 deaths. Regarding these figures, 55 percent of the cases are Latinx patients at leasts 49 years of age, while 46 percent of the deaths ae Latinx, Aragón recalled.
“When hospitals are so affected and we have so many patients in intensive care, we have to cancel many services in health centers,” he said. “The effect of this pandemic is profound and the vaccine is free.”
Aragón also clarified that although new strains of the coronavirus are appearing—it’s unknown if the current vaccines are effective against these strains—with respect to the most recent B117 variant that appeared in the United Kingdom, current vaccines are effective.
He also explained that access to vaccines is for all people, regardless of their immigration status or if they lack health insurance. Patient’s medical information is also protected by law and is not shared with any other state or federal authority.
“We recognize that there are many myths that are spreading in our community, but it is important that we focus more on the true data,” said Dr. Trinidad Solís of the Fresno County Public Health Department, where their information campaign has reached rural communities, some of whom don’t have internet access, such as Coachella.
Yet some Latinx question why the vaccine was developed in record time. “You have to understand that priority was given among the scientific and medical community to develop an effective vaccine…all resources were focused there,” said Solis.
But there are others who even believe that the inoculation can infect them with COVID-19, and there are those who think that if they have already had coronavirus, they do not need to be vaccinated. Solis emphasizes that it is unknown how long the protection of natural immunity can last.
“If we want the pandemic to end, getting vaccinated protects not only us but our families,” said Solis, citing with concern a recent Los Angeles Times article that reports that Latinos are dying at a rate eight times higher than just two months ago due to COVID-19.
“The implementation plan now is to vaccinate those who are most at risk [over 65] and when your turn comes, you will be able to go to vaccination centers in the community, your family doctors, clinics and local pharmacies,” Solis said.
Governor Gavin Newsom has laid out a vaccination plan. In Phase 1A, health workers and residents of nursing homes were the first to be vaccinated. In Phase 1B, which has already begun, includes people over 65 and those who are at risk of exposure working in the areas of education, child care, emergency services, food and agriculture.
A second group of this phase will include people at risk of exposure working in the areas of transportation and logistics, industrial, commercial and residential, as well as the prison and homeless population.
And in Phase 1C, people between 50 and 64 and those between 16 and 49 who have pre-existing conditions or disabilities that increase the risk of contracting COVID will be vaccinated.
“We are receiving 300,000 supplies of vaccines every week and in the next few weeks that number is going to be higher … we also believe that in March we will have other approved vaccines (beyond Pfizer and Moderna),” said Aragon. “The distribution process is fair and equitable.”
For more information on tracking the pandemic and distribution of vaccines, visit covid19.ca.gov.