After initial disparities, Chatham’s Hispanic vaccination rate nears 50%

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Just eight months ago, vaccination rates among Chatham’s Hispanic community trailed those of most other demographic groups by double-digit percentage points.

Now, a year after several COVID-19 vaccines received Emergency Use Authorization, that disparity has all but disappeared — and in North Carolina as a whole, a higher percentage of Hispanic residents are at least partially vaccinated than the non-Hispanic population.

“We are glad to see these disparities narrow over time,” Mike Zelek, director of Chatham County’s Public Health Department, told the News + Record. “To me, it is a testament to the hard work of community organizations like Hispanic Liaison and our staff who carried our critical efforts to make the vaccine accessible and share reliable information.”

According to data compiled by CCPHD data scientist Maia Fulton-Black, 51% of the county’s eligible Hispanic population — 5 years and older — is at least partially vaccinated, while 47% are fully vaccinated, as of Dec. 1. In comparison, 50% of Chatham’s non-Hispanic population over age 5 has received at least one dose while 47% have been fully vaccinated.

Of the total Hispanic population in the county, at least 47% have been partially vaccinated while 42% are fully vaccinated. Among Chatham’s total non-Hispanic population, 48% have received at least one dose while 46% have received the complete vaccine regimen.

The county health department receives updated information from the state around the end of each month, and Fulton-Black compiled the data based on Census 2020 Vintage estimates.

“(We) know that the Hispanic population skews younger in Chatham than the general population, so there would likely be some narrowing of the gap as younger populations became eligible,” Zelek said. “That said, it is also, and I would say even more so, the result of intentional efforts by staff and partners. And I am so proud of these efforts because they are saving lives while addressing deeply rooted disparities.”

Both Fulton-Black and Zelek warned, however, that the data may not present the complete picture. The state’s data only includes data reported to the North Carolina COVID-19 Vaccine Management System (CVMS), which may lack data from some vaccine providers, as well as demographic data from those who did not or chose not to report their ethnicities and/or ages.

“So, the demographic numbers … are helpful to see if certain groups are falling behind but with the caveat that all figures are actually higher,” Zelek said.

‘Things have been very successful’

Chatham’s Hispanic community was hit hard at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, before vaccines were available. Though Chatham’s population is about 13% Hispanic, 32% of its total confirmed coronavirus cases were among Hispanic residents earlier this fall, according to the state’s COVID-19 data.

Now, Chatham’s most recent vaccination data reflects a statewide and even nationwide upward trend. According to the state vaccinations dashboard, 53% of the state’s total Hispanic population (who account for nearly 11% of North Carolina) are at least partially vaccinated compared with 52% of non-Hispanic residents, as of Dec. 14. Likewise, 70% of the state’s Hispanic population over 12 has had at least one dose; for non-Hispanic residents, that same figure is 58%.

Where did these gains come from? According to a survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a national health news nonprofit, the percentage of partially vaccinated Hispanic adults across the U.S. rose 12 percentage points between July and September — and Chatham took part in it.


Will Mendoza, the Hispanic Liaison’s COVID-19 Program Manager, volunteers at St. Julia Catholic Church’s second vaccination clinic on April 24. / Staff photo by Kim Hawks

Will Mendoza, the Hispanic Liaison’s COVID-19 project manager, pointed to summer as the time when “all that effort was done” to significantly increase the vaccinated Latino population across Chatham and North Carolina.

“We got really lucky to find good partnerships and sort of got on a roll,” he told the News + Record. “We had enough demand from people in the community, so we sort of got busy real fast … There’s more availability for the community to get vaccinated on their own terms, so we are planning the next steps on how to reach the people that still are not comfortable with vaccines or have limitations in access to vaccines. Things have been very successful, I feel.”

In collaboration with Greensboro-based medical provider Better Care, the Hispanic Liaison vaccinated more than 300 people at its COVID-19 Health Fair in August, he said, plus its follow-up vaccination clinic in September. Throughout the summer, the Liaison also held Sunday clinics at Iglesia El Camino in downtown Siler City.

“We did it from June all the way till September, almost every other week,” Mendoza said. “We had good attendance — good in terms of, you know, 10 to 15 people. They were never huge events.”

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Now, however, they’re working on switching things up. The Liaison’s COVID-19 response strategy is three-pronged: education, testing and vaccination. Now that the CDC has recommended boosters for all adults — and vaccines have become available to 5- to 11-year-olds — they’ve cycled back to education.

“Boosters are coming up, vaccinations for youth are coming out, so there’s a lot of questions,” he said, “and we are working closely with the health department and heavily with the community to try to understand where they are at and what’s their need to start preparing for what’s coming, which I think after the education, we run up again with vaccination and testings.”

To that end, the Liaison plans to host a Facebook Live chat in Spanish at 4:30 this Saturday alongside UNC Health, Piedmont Health and the CCPHD. They’ll be discussing COVID-19 booster shots, vaccine mix-and-matching, and pediatric vaccines for 5- to 11- year-old children.

Come January, Mendoza sees two key areas that the nonprofit will work toward: booster shot and pediatric vaccine clinics in Siler City, as well as neighborhood COVID-19 information visits, plus pop-up testing and vaccination events if needed.

The health department, too, plans to continue its bilingual outreach efforts, particularly when it comes to vaccinating children and empowering parents to make informed decisions.

“We are hopeful that the vaccine uptake among this young population will be high and will continue our efforts to get there,” Zelek said, “with a focus on equity.”

Reporter Victoria Johnson can be reached at victoria@chathamnr.com.

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