Artists, health advocates take on COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in Latino community
As local public health officials take steps toward a more equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccine, a group of Latino artists and health care advocates are launching a grassroots public health campaign targeting local Latino communities who may be hesitant to be vaccinated.
The campaign takes aim at fears and myths about vaccine safety, through artwork by local artists that’s been made into posters, flyers and banners, said Isabel Lopez, one of the main organizers of the arts and public health campaign.
Artists and advocates are scheduled to showcase the artwork at a public Valentine’s Day event Sunday morning in the parking lot in front of the Dollar Tree in Santa Rosa’s Roseland neighborhood. From there, artists and advocates will go out into the community and hand out printed flyers and posters of the artwork to local businesses and residents.
“For me, this campaign is really about attempting to save our gente (people) because right now there are so many myths going around,” said Lopez, who is executive director of Raizes Collective, a local nonprofit culture and arts organization that is participating in the campaign.
Lopez and others involved in the effort said in the Latino community there’s a great deal of distrust of government programs and initiatives. That distrust, they said, stems from decades of systemic racism and inequality, as well as recent immigration policies that have led to greater deportations, separated thousands of families at the border and saw children being held in cages.
Government-sponsored public health messages, statistics and information is simply not getting to many in the Latino community, she said. “It’s really going to take trusted messages from our community to dispel those myths and to get those folks to accept getting the vaccine,” said Lopez.
One of the posters, painted by local public artist Martin Zuniga, a health care worker in green scubs and wearing a surgical mask holds up a globe. The artwork, an homage to one of the cards in the classic Mexican bingo game Lotería, describes the health care worker “El Heroe,” or The Hero.
In another of Zuniga’s paintings, a large syringe is depicted with the message, “La Vacuna Cura” — the vaccine cures. Zuniga said there’s a lot of misinformation about COVID-19, including the belief among some who have previously been infected that they can’t contract the virus again.
Since the pandemic started last March, Latinos in Sonoma County have been disproportionately impacted by virus infections. Latinos are 27% of the local population but they currently comprise 65% of COVID-19 cases, where the ethnicity or race of the infected individual is known.
Dr. Brian Prystowsky, a Sutter Health pediatrician who is also part of the campaign, said a lot of the messaging related to the pandemic has been overwhelming and driven largely by scientific data and statistics. Prystowsky, who teaches doctors in training at the Santa Rosa Family Medicine Residency program, said feelings of distrust in marginalized communities is a real obstacle, and numbers and charts won’t change that.
“It’s not going to be a statistic that’s going to make people feel comfortable. I think they have to literally trust,” he said.
Prystowsky said it’s helpful when people see that someone in their “inner circle,” a brother, sister or parent has received the vaccine and can see firsthand that it’s safe. He said the event Sunday is a chance for members of the community to encourage each other to get vaccinated.
“When the community decides to take care of itself, then you actually see increasing (vaccination) numbers in marginalized communities,” he said.
As part of the campaign, Magali Larque, program manager for the nonprofit Latino Service Providers, got more than a dozen of her bilingual and bicultural interns to volunteer and create artwork or stickers and buttons that will be handed out on Sunday.
Larque, herself an artist, said the project has given her interns and volunteers the chance to express through art how the pandemic has impacted their families, friends and community. She said that often public health messaging gets overlooked or simply doesn’t reach some of the communities being affected.
“Our focus is on just adding context to what’s being put out there and creating equitable opportunities for our people to be safe, for our people to be vaccinated,” she said. “Because they are essential workers.”
You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @pressreno.