Connecticut’s Hispanic residents continue to be disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, especially when it comes to vaccine and booster access.
Now Church of the City in New London aims to stop that with bi-weekly clinics. They are using grant funding to specifically reach local Latinos.
It’s a church in downtown New London, with open doors and open minds on language. Spanish was spoken Wednesday, not in a sermon, but in translation at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic.
Patricio Tejada, who lives in New London, received a booster at the clinic. He said he is grateful someone could walk him through the process in his native language.
The bi-weekly clinics at Church of the City are specifically geared toward helping Connecticut Latinos get access to the COVID-19 vaccine.
“The numbers still show that Latino Americans are still extremely underrepresented when it comes to vaccine clinics, ranging from their work schedules to language barriers, to the overall historical fears that they have,” Antonio Vargas, Church of the City Associate Pastor, said.
More than two years into the pandemic, in Connecticut 76 percent of Hispanic residents are vaccinated but only 37 percent are boosted. That is compared to 64 percent of white residents in the state who are boosted, according to data from KFF.org.
Church of the City is one of just nine sites nationwide selected by the Hispanic Access Foundation to receive grant funding to run vaccine clinics for six months aimed at reaching Latinos. The clinics started in March and will run through August.
“We wanted to work with local faith leaders, work through our church networks, to really have a trusted source in a community where people would feel safe coming to that community,” David Armijo, Chief of Programs for Hispanic Access Foundation, said.
Pastor Vargas said language support is key to building trust.
“We are one of the only bilingual, Spanish-speaking vaccine [clinics] for the area, and being able to build that relationship and that community,” he said. “Because we are a majority Spanish speaking-church, we also have really good roots within the Hispanic population.”
Mirelis Miranda-Lopez with the Hispanic Access Foundation is one of many interpreters for the vaccine project.
“Spanish is my first language, so I prefer to talk to people who don’t understand. For example, older people who don’t understand any of English,” she said.
The church is also sending people out into the community, including Miranda-Lopez, to speak Spanish with people and help them get registered for the vaccine.
“I’m knocking doors. I’m knocking [at] all the restaurants and commercials that we have around. Around the community I use my Spanish, letting them know how they can be vaccinated,” Miranda-Lopez said.
With each knock on each door, they hope to tear down yet another barrier: vaccine hesitancy.
“Providing relevant awareness and education for undocumented folks,” Pastor Vargas said. “But also for Spanish-speaking Americans on getting a fuller understanding and being able to access what they don't typically have access to.”
At the first vaccination clinic at Church of the City in March, 32 people received their first shots or booster shots. Every other week since, including Wednesday, dozens more showed up.
“I have faith in it, and I want to protect myself one more time,” Tejada said in Spanish
Tejada received his fourth COVID-19 shot Wednesday. Rolling up his sleeve is the best way he feels he can fight the pandemic. He encourages fellow Latinos to put their health first and do the same.
“I invite all the people who haven’t done it to do so,” he said. “ Because it’s the only way to save yourself.”
The clinics at Church of the City are held every other Wednesday from 1 to 7 p.m. Anyone can walk in or call the church in advance to make an appointment.
Hispanic Access Foundation is also using the clinics as an opportunity to conduct a survey about vaccine hesitancy. Anyone who attends a clinic is welcome to participate.