With the pandemic hitting Western North Carolina's Latino community harder than almost any other group, health care providers and advocates in Hendersonville are taking a more targeted approach to make sure these residents get the Covid-19 vaccine.
In a sprawling, convention-sized ballroom at Blue Ridge Community College, a row of curtains lines the back wall. On the other side of the screen, eligible recipients are getting their first doses of the Moderna vaccine. It’s a makeshift clinic run by Pardee UNC Healthcare.
68-year-old Hector Sanchez emerges from one the curtains. A nurse escorts him to a row of chairs to wait for the next fifteen minutes, to check for symptoms. Under his NASA face mask, it’s apparent -- he’s grinning.
“I feel like a weight has been lifted, because I’ve just been vaccinated. I’m good, I’m happy,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez says his son helped him book the appointment because he’d heard the local non-profit El Centro was providing free interpretation services on site.
“It’s a relief,” he said. “Because I understand a little English, but if they offer me an interpreter, it’s so much better.”
In early February, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report that found people of color in the US— particularly Latinos — are getting vaccinated at disproportionately lower rates compared to whites. This comes as the Hispanic/Latino population is also experiencing higher rates of Covid-19 infections and deaths.
Executive director of El Centro in Hendersonville Sergio Fernandez says that’s why a more targeted approach is essential for making sure the vaccine gets to the communities where it’s most needed.
“A big part of our community does not speak English, and the services they have, sometimes they don’t show up in Spanish, Fernandez said. “And people sometimes don’t know where to look for those services, so here we are. Just, bridging that gap.”
Fernandez says the organization is also helping Spanish-speakers schedule their vaccine appointments. They booked 12 on the first day.
Aside from language, another factor preventing some Latino/Hispanic residents from getting vaccinated is fears about immigration status, Fernandez said. Pardee UNC Healthcare spokesperson Amy Holcombe says while a driver’s license or government issued ID is requested for registration, "we will not turn away a patient if they do not have them."