Nearly two years since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have faced the disease and the loss of millions of human lives and the sad and dangerous reality of having a health system and a society filled with moral gaps, inequalities and inequalities. This unprecedented and complex situation challenged us all on many levels. While facing high levels of unexpected fear, insecurity and distress, the well-known socio-cultural and demographic differences became more apparent, leading to devastating consequences.
However, not everything was negative. Science, as well as health professionals, showed that they could handle the challenge. Altruism, hope, dedication and commitment were transformed on clinical improvements and scientific development. New treatments were discovered, preventive measurements were proven critical, and a vaccine was finally available, bringing some light to the end of the tunnel.
However, not all of these advances can blur the difference in health care, and we continue to have evidence of important differences that primarily affect minorities. Differences are the result of socio-demographic characteristics, cultural backgrounds, reading skills and even political beliefs. Society has been divided between those who trust science and health care and those who are skeptical or scared and refuse to follow preventative measures and recommendations that can save their own lives and the lives of those around them.
In the United States, the Latinx community represents one of the minorities that has been significantly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. As a reference, about 62 million Latinx live in the United States One in six adults and one in four children in the United States identified as Latinx. Data from the CDC reveal that the Latinx population accounts for 24.4% of infections, while representing only 18.5% of the US population. These levels are relatively higher than those seen among blacks (11.6%) and whites (55.6%), while they represent 12.5% and 60.1% of the American people, respectively.
Several aspects have explained this situation, including misinformation, lack of understanding or trust, socio-economic status, low health competence and reduced access to health care. In addition, factors such as migration status, working conditions and lack of health insurance have acted as important deterrents to visiting hospitals, being tested and receiving vaccines. In fact, although vaccines are currently widely available and their effectiveness in reducing fatal disease and safety has been proven, we are still witnessing the high levels of disbelief and hesitation and the low compliance in the Latinx group.
Some of the concerns reported by the Latinx community include the possible harmful effects of the vaccine, listing unfounded theories such as DNA changes, infertility, cancer and the use of tracking devices, among other things to justify their fears and non-compliance.
By December 2021, 73.8% of people had been fully vaccinated in the United States. Based on CDC vaccine administration data, only 44.8% of Latinx received the full dose. In addition, while 89.1% of those over the age of 65 received the booster, only 58.6% of Latinx versus 70.4% of non-Hispanic whites received this required third dose.
This non-compliance is critical, especially if we take into account the increased risk of morbidity and mortality associated with non-vaccination. Based on CDC data from October 2021, unvaccinated individuals are 5 and 10 times more likely to test positive and 14 and 20 times more likely to die, respectively, than a person who is fully vaccinated without and with a booster dose.
Many efforts have been dedicated to reducing hesitation, mistrust and fear, while increasing the level of vaccination compliance in the Latinx population. Some examples are health campaigns supported by Latin institutions and medical companies, teaching materials in Spanish and dissemination on social media with the help of influential Latinx representatives. All of these have focused on providing transparent, truthful, reliable and at the same time simple information adapted to the language, health skills, culture and social background of the Latinx community.
Because of these efforts, we have seen some improvement in the level of compliance. The latest CDC reports, which account for the last 14 days, show that the incidence of full vaccination and booster in the Latinx community has increased to 22.5% and 11%, respectively. Although these data show that the initial vaccination dust is slowly being reduced, we are still far from a reasonable target that will significantly protect the Latinx community, especially now that we are facing a new COVID-19 variant.
In fact, over the past few weeks, Omicron has become the number one variant in the United States, representing more than 73% of cases. This variant, which appears to be less aggressive for the fully vaccinated (especially with the booster), is still highly contagious (more than delta); therefore, it spread more rapidly in society. Those who have not yet been fully vaccinated are at high risk of being exposed, becoming seriously ill and even dying. So it is not surprising that unvaccinated patients currently account for the majority of the hospital and intensive care unit due to COVID-19.
Knowing that a large number of Latinxes are not yet fully vaccinated and understand the health gaps and social disparities affecting this group, it is reasonable to assume that the Latinx community will be disproportionately affected by the pain and grief of the new wave of Covid19 -pandemic. More efforts and resources need to be identified to continue educating and empowering the Latinx community to comply with vaccination and other proven preventive measures that will protect them from COVID-19 and its devastating consequences now and in the future. In addition, medical schools, communities and other related health institutions need to become more socially and culturally aware and advocate for a diverse, inclusive health system that promotes equality and reduces inequalities.
Miriam Zylberglait Lisigurski is an internal physician. Ricardo Correa is an endocrinologist.
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