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Tackling COVID Vaccine Skepticism In Nevada's Communities Of Color

(AP Photo/John Locher, File)
(AP Photo/John Locher, File)

In this Jan. 22, 2021, file photo a certified medical assistant, prepares doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Nevada is rolling out the second doses of COVID-19 vaccines to frontline workers and residents over 70 years old.

But a recent study from UNR found 35 percent of Nevadans were unlikely to get the vaccine once it became available.

Advocates say misinformation and historical trauma make Black, Latinx and Native American communities less likely to trust the vaccine.

So a new initiative called the One Community campaign is going to provide multilingual, culturally competent vaccine outreach to help keep Nevadans of color healthy.

Erika Marquez is a senior research associate with UNLV's Nevada Institute for Children's Research and Policy. She said the program actually started months ago when they were asked to research outreach into seven different targeted communities in Nevada.

Marquez said they found quickly that community leaders and members from those specific populations needed to be part of the discussion on how to reach out.

"For us really, the One Community Campaign is about community focus, making sure that there is community voice and that they have a seat at the table," she said.

Marquez said as the campaign moves forward they're going to focus on the African American, Latinx and indigenous communities in the state. She said over the past few months her group held 25 different focus groups to figure out to best reach out, get the vaccine message across to different populations and figure out why those groups were more hesitant.

Marquez said getting out the vaccine information is not just about translating it into a different language, but cultural considerations need to be part of the messaging.

"We need to make sure that we don't always implement a one-size-fits-all approach to outreach and education because that kind of misses some of the community concerns," she said.

Roxann McCoy is the president of the NAACP Las Vegas. She said one of the reasons many in the Black community have concerns about getting the vaccine is the notorious Tuskegee Study.

The unethical study was started in the 30s but continued through the 70s. Government scientists studied mostly poor Black men with syphilis without properly explaining to them what they were being treated for and without properly treating them for the disease, even when treatment was available.

"That's still fresh in the minds of African Americans in this community," Mccoy said.

As for younger people who don't remember the study, McCoy said they are even more distrustful of government agencies overall.

"That distrust comes from really government agencies. It's really not just about the vaccine. We've seen police brutality. All those entities that are 'in authority' that are there to protect and serve have not equitably protected served and especially when it comes to the minority community," she said.

She said when you add up all those things there is a lot of mistrust all the way around from the Black community.

To combat the mistrust, McCoy led by example and received her vaccine. She said the Black community needs to remember history but also look ahead.

"I think it's important that we not forget about the history that has taken place and acknowledge it, but then we have to start figuring out where we grow from there in order to protect ourselves in this day and time," she said.

She has personal knowledge of just how serious COVID-19 can be. Her mother passed away from the disease this past summer. McCoy herself then caught the virus and passed it to her daughters.

As far as the Latinx community's hesitation, Marquez said a lot of it is coming from undocumented people and people in mixed-status households.

"The concern about being tracked or that information going back to some type of federal agency and then would lead to some type of deportation," she said.

Marquez said people are concerned about what identification will be needed to get a vaccine and what information will be recorded. She said vaccination sites should not be asking for a person's Social Security Number. 

She said her group is working with Immunize Nevada, the state agency that oversees vaccines, to answer questions about identification and where information is reported. 

One Community Campaign is hosting a  webinar this week where doctors, health care professionals and community leaders will answer questions about the vaccine in hopes of allying any fears that people might after about it. 

McCoy said one of the messages she has for her community is about the future.

"If we look to have this community or our lives back to some sort of normalcy, or as we know it, then things are going to have to be done differently and living in fear is not one of them," she said.

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Erika Marquez, Assistant Professor, UNLV School of Public Health;  Roxann McCoy, President, NAACP Las Vegas

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Bert is a reporter and producer based in Reno, where he covers the state legislature and stories that resonate across Nevada. He began his career in journalism after studying abroad during the summer of 2011 in Egypt, during the Arab Spring. Before he joined Nevada Public Radio and Capital Public Radio, Bert was a contributor at KQED and the Sacramento News & Review. He was also a photographer, video editor and digital producer at the East Bay Express.