Posted on September 29, 2021 by Alexander Vigo-Valentín, Ph.D. Public Health Advisor, Hispanic/Latino Health Policy Lead, Division of Policy and Data Office of Minority Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
With the COVID-19 vaccine becoming available, many of us, especially parents, were hopeful that we were seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and would be able to begin the school year with the pandemic in the rearview mirror. However, the surge of COVID-19 cases in children and adolescents has intensified concern among parents and public health leaders alike. And as the pandemic continues, so do existing health disparities and inequalities.
Compared with the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, we now understand how racial and ethnic minorities – and Latino communities in particular – have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Hispanic population accounts for 19% of deaths associated with COVID-19 and is experiencing the highest rate of COVID-19 deaths (36%) among children (0-4 years of age) and adolescents (5-18 years of age).
According to a Pew Research Center report, many Latinos feel confident that the worst periods of the pandemic are in the past. However, the optimism of our communities toward the COVID-19 pandemic cannot become a deterrent from getting vaccinated and continuing to wear a mask in public indoor settings, even for those who are vaccinated. Instead, it should catalyze the adoption of these COVID-19 preventive measures to protect our children and rebuild our communities post-pandemic. The vaccines are free and available to everyone aged 12 years or older living in the U.S., regardless of immigration or health insurance status.
Notably, public health agencies and community organizations continue to work together to create culturally and linguistically appropriate approaches to help mitigate the impact of COVID-19. In alignment with the Executive Order (E.O.) 13995, – “Ensuring an Equitable Pandemic Response and Recovery,” signed on January 21, 2021, public health agencies and community organizations continue to work together to create culturally and linguistically appropriate approaches to help mitigate the impact of COVID-19. Section 3 of the E.O. calls for the need to conduct “an outreach campaign to promote vaccine trust and uptake among communities of color and other underserved populations.” The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) national campaign, “Juntos Sí Podemos,” provides multiple resources in both English and Spanish to educate people about effective ways to prevent and stop COVID-19 in Hispanic communities. Through the “Alianza Comunitaria Contra el COVID-19,” and the Community Engagement Alliance Against COVID-19 Disparities, community members are reinforcing their role as key trusted allies. Thus, community members spread timely and accurate information to family, friends, and neighbors. Additionally, the CDC has COVID-19 guidance to protect students, teachers, staff, and communities, including child care programs. Through these efforts, Hispanic communities can be made more aware of the risk of misinformation regarding COVID-19. They can be encouraged to get vaccinated to protect themselves, their loved ones, and their community. HHS has made available resources to ensure our communities get access to accurate information about the COVID-19 vaccination and address misinformation. We should empower our Latino communities with the tools to help close the gaps in information, and confront misinformation with evidence-based messaging from credible sources.
Despite these efforts and many others at regional and local levels, Latinos account for only 17% of those fully vaccinated in the United States. For that reason, we must work closely with the Hispanic communities hit hardest by COVID-19, providing accurate information and encouraging people to get informed, get vaccinated, wear a mask and take steps to overcome COVID-19.
This Hispanic Heritage Month, we can commit to protecting our children and communities by getting vaccinated and following CDC recommendations. Mask use is especially important in school settings where the children are unable to be vaccinated. And, we must continue following the science, applying preventive measures, and working together so we can once again join together as a community and gather with family and friends.
Be sure to visit the OMH Hispanic Heritage Month website to access resources in English and Spanish from other HHS agencies and stakeholders to help provide Hispanics and Latinos with relevant information related to COVID-19.
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