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Roanoke City, Casa Latina provide Spanish information on COVID-19 vaccine

The language barrier and immigration status are obstacles to vaccination
Published: Mar. 12, 2021 at 11:15 PM EST
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Latinos in Virginia are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 than any other ethnic group, according to CDC data. Even as the vaccine rolls out, the language barrier is still an obstacle to health equity.

In Roanoke, there are ongoing efforts to change that.

At Casa Latina, bags stuffed with food and supplies make their way into households throughout the city’s Hispanic communities every week.

We have the food distributions every Saturday and also Wednesday,” Tanya Torres, Volunteer and Services Coordinator for Casa Latina, said.

“Every week we’ll give the families a bag of rice, and either beans or lentils. We do cookies, which the kids especially love,” added Katie Hedrick, Roanoke’s bilingual COVID-19 Support Specialist, who has teamed up with the non-profit organization.

Now Casa Latina is serving up something more: information about the COVID-19 vaccine in Spanish.

“It’s huge,’ Hedrick said. “In Roanoke we have about a 10 percent Spanish speaking population.”

Hedrick says the language barrier is a major obstacle in helping the local Latino community get the vaccine.

“I have people that contact me probably daily to say, ‘Hey I’ve called this office but they only speak English. Where do I get a vaccine, how do I know it’s safe, how do I get registered,’” she said.

That is why informational pamphlets about the COVID vaccine are going into the bags being given out during food distribution.

“We have a ‘photonovela,’ which is like a comic. It explains what what the vaccine is, how it’s safe,” Hedrick said. “Many of these families may have some English skills. But we want to make sure that they have as many resources as possible in Spanish.”

Torres explained Casa Latina is also posting Spanish videos on Facebook, and sending emails and even texts via WhatsApp out to community members.

The staff at Casa Latina says the vaccine is so important because many Latinos work on the front lines.

“They are exposed to the virus,” Torres said.

“The stimulus checks , so many of the folks in the Spanish speaking community will not be eligible, so they continue to work,” said Kris Tilley-Lubbs, President of the Board at Casa Latina Roanoke Valley.

The non-profit can meet needs to help people get to a vaccine clinic.

“Transportation is a really big one,” Tilley-Lubbs said.

However, Hedrick adds that for some there is another deterrent to getting the shot: immigration status.

“There are people that are afraid to ask for help.” she said. “They don’t have citizenship. Or there was one family, they were working on getting their green card, and they were afraid if they asked for help that would kind of derail the progress.”

Even though they may now live in Roanoke, Hedrick says some people who have come from other countries carry with them difficult histories.

“Some of these families come from countries where the government was very untrustworthy, and very corrupt, and they weren’t there to help.” she said.

It is a perception Hedrick hopes to change.

“It’s been really cool for me to be able to step in, coming from a government organization, but to say we’re just here to help.”

Many still have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine, and WDBJ7 presented those questions to health officials and city leaders in a Spanish round table discussion.

They explained what exactly is in the vaccine, and discussed how it will impact people with different medical conditions.

They also laid out the challenges in rolling out the vaccine and achieving health equity.

If you would like to watch the entire round table discussion in Spanish, you can see it on the WDBJ7 Facebook page.

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