Since the start of the pandemic, Luz Gallegos and his team of 56 immigrant advocates have battled the scorching sun, illiteracy and deadly propaganda in the fields and orchards of the Coachella Valley.
As they deployed to educate farm workers on how to protect themselves from covid-19, they quickly learned that rumors and misinformation are often the source of most of the news that farm workers across the region receive about the disease. The need for boosters and the looming threat of the omicron variant have made covid communication even more difficult.
“Now we’re debunking the myths with boosters. It’s like a never-ending story, ”said Gallegos, executive director of the TODEC (Formation Occupational Development Educating Communities) Legal Center, based at Coachella.
Gallegos and his team meet in the morning to discuss a strategy on how to spread disinformation before it spreads. “Once we start hearing rumors, we try to get ahead of them and create messages to demystify them before they start entering the fields like they did when we started vaccinating in January. “
In January, it was said in the fields that the covid vaccination would make you sterile. Now people are hearing from friends and social media that vaccines can turn you into a monkey, change your gender, or clone you.
Health workers in Gallegos and Riverside County earlier this year managed to get vaccines on the arms of most of the agricultural workers in the valley, where dates, citrus fruits and grapes are the dominant crops. This made the sales job easier for some of its TODEC employees and volunteers.
“People who have been vaccinated, they feel like they’re still there, they’re still alive,” she said. “People are seeing the science now. “
But the equity issues that were evident in the first round of vaccines are more evident now, including access to healthcare, language barriers and misinformation, Gallegos said. Some workers do not understand why they need a follow-up injection. Others are newcomers who have not been vaccinated against covid at all.
Community health organizations have struggled to provide booster shots to the Latino community – whose members count for more than half of covid cases in California. In September, approximately 80% of eligible Latinos had received at least one hit, the same rate as whites. But of the 23.4 million people aged 65 and over who had received a booster dose before December 13th only 7.8% were Latinos (who do up almost 10% of this age group), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Latinos of other ages were also relatively little boosted.
“Latinos don’t know where to turn for specific information,” said Gilberto Lopez, an assistant professor at Arizona State University who worked on vaccine communication. “The government hasn’t done the best job, the big national TV stations haven’t done such a good job and the community organizations are working on a hyper local level.”
A basic problem: Credible information about vaccines and the science that supports them is not readily available in Spanish or other languages, said Dr Yelba Castellon-Lopez, clinical assistant professor of family medicine at UCLA Health. “People are afraid of contracting the virus in healthcare facilities. Many avoided seeking treatment even when sick for fear of being put on a ventilator, for fear of never being released from the hospital. “
The county has partnered with TODEC to send health care providers to the fields and hold vaccination and booster clinics open on Fridays. This responds to immigrants’ fears of going to the doctor and their fears that the side effects of the bite could cause them to miss work.
“Friday gives them the opportunity to recover,” said Gallegos.
Castellon-Lopez hosted webinars for patients and community members to dispel myths and explain the changing reality of the covid epidemic. “What we learn about covid is changing every day and that makes it difficult,” she said. “I think people appreciate having access to doctors who look like them and speak the language.”
Misinformation about Spanish AM Radio, Social media and messaging apps like WhatsApp are fueling continued reluctance among Latinos, according to a recent study conducted by Change Research and the Latino Anti-Disinformation Lab. It found that nearly 4 in 10 respondents had seen information that made them think covid vaccines were not safe or effective.
Latino educators seek to quell deceptive propaganda with culturally relevant, easy to understand, and accurate information.
Lopez, of Arizona State University, created the Covid Health Animation Project, which makes cartoons that deal with covid-related misinformation. But he thinks health communicators need to inject a little debauchery into their scripts to get people’s attention.
“The type of comedy, the type of message, the wording we use, it’s rated G,” Lopez said. He just published an animation that drops a few swear words here and there. “This is how this population talks. We have to use some of the language they use to reach out to the community that is not getting vaccinated. “
Language barriers remain a constant problem, especially for speakers of indigenous languages, said Odilia Romero, Executive Director of Comunidades Indígenas en Liderazgo (CIELO), a non-profit organization in Los Angeles.
Pablo Ek Oxte, 52-year-old plumber of a small pueblo in Yucatán, Mexico, rolled up his sleeve for a booster shot on a recent Saturday morning after hearing about the vaccination clinic in a PSA produced by CIELO in his native Mayan language. The group posted a series of vaccination cartoons in various Indigenous languages on social media sites.
“I relied on the information from CIELO,” said Oxte, who suffers from asthma and diabetes. Although he speaks a little Spanish, “I appreciate the information in my language,” he said.
In Oxnard, California, Francisco Didier Ulloa and Bernardino Almazán host a program on Radio Indígena in Spanish and Mixteco, an indigenous Mexican language.
“Many of our native brethren do not speak Spanish, so it was necessary to convey the information in such a way that they would listen and understand,” Ulloa said.
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has increased its memes on social media and is testing strategies to reduce the vaccination gap between white and Latino residents. The state has partnered with political cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz create a series of cartoons and animations promoting information on vaccination and reminders.
“We want people to see themselves and their families reflected in these pictures and maybe do a double take and think twice about their own family’s situation,” Alcaraz said. “Maybe it makes them change their minds about the vaccine.”