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Forum Tackles Vaccine Hesitancy in Latinx Communities

In Cedars-Sinai Virtual Town Hall, Prominent Community Leaders Issue Urgent Plea for Those Who Are Unvaccinated to Get Vaccines to Protect Themselves, Their Families and Their Communities

As the delta variant surges across Los Angeles and the U.S., prominent civic leaders came together in a recent Cedars-Sinai virtual town hall and issued an urgent call to unvaccinated members of Latinx communities: Get immunized as soon as possible to protect themselves, their loved ones and their communities.

The online forum in Spanish was part of a new Cedars-Sinai health education campaign called Doses of Hope that addresses vaccine hesitancy in vulnerable populations through education and awareness.

"We know that vaccines represent the path toward normalcy," moderator Jorge Goldberg, MD, told the online audience. "We called this event ‘Doses of Hope’ because we truly believe the vaccines offer hope."

Goldberg, senior consultant at Cedars-Sinai International, was joined by Hector Balcazar, PhD, MS, dean of the College of Science and Health at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science; Nury Martinez, president of the Los Angeles City Council; and Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights.

The hour-long Doses of Hope forum was the third in an ongoing series of public conversations called “Embracing Our Community: LIVE!” sponsored by Cedars-Sinai to address vital issues affecting local communities.

The Aug. 11 event came on the same day the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to require proof of vaccination for those visiting indoor spaces—such as restaurants, bars, gyms, stores, concerts and sports venues—in the city.

Martinez said she and other city leaders want to avoid a repeat of the winter of 2020, when businesses were forced to close in an effort to stop the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19—an unwelcome move that left untold numbers of people out of work even as they tended to sick family members who had been infected.

"We can't go through that again," Martinez said. "We have to get out of this, and the only way we can get out of this is to be vaccinated."

Martinez said she and her entire family—from her 84-year-old mother to her 12-year-old daughter—have been vaccinated.

"For me as a leader in Los Angeles, I wanted to set an example to our community and assure them that the vaccine is safe, that it is effective, and we need to do everything we can to continue to spread the message to get vaccinated," she said.

Martinez and the other speakers lamented some of the major obstacles to vaccines in Latinx communities: misinformation on social media and fear or mistrust of the government. They cited a practical obstacle as well, explaining that many essential workers cannot take time away from work to get vaccinated or work from home.

"You can't imagine how many people I spoke to who had family members impacted by COVID-19 who would have loved to get the vaccine but didn't have the access in time," Salas said.

Salas said that she got vaccinated as soon as a dose was available. She wanted to avoid the suffering she witnessed among others who were infected by the virus that causes COVID-19. She sought to dispel fears among those who may be reluctant to get vaccinated because of questions about their legal standing.

"Your immigration status is not a barrier to vaccination," she said. "Your information will not be shared. It is safe. As our community knows, we have been working for many years to … ensure that they have access to medical care and other services."

Thomas M. Priselac, president and CEO of Cedars-Sinai, said the Doses of Hope message was intended to resonate with communities that add so much to the diverse tapestry of Los Angeles.

"Latinos and Hispanics make indispensable contributions to our health system as faculty and staff, patients and their families, leadership and volunteers," he said in introducing the forum. "In fact, in more ways than we can ever count, Latinx communities nourish and sustain this entire region."

Members of the virtual audience sought answers to a range of questions during the forum. Some asked how preexisting conditions such as diabetes and obesity could impact those diagnosed with COVID-19, while others wanted to know how to protect children under 12. The three vaccines that have received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration have not yet been approved for children under that age.

Panelists, returning to a familiar refrain, implored listeners to take control of their health and their lives by getting vaccines that are free and safe.

"This is the most important impact to your health," Balcazar said. "It is important that we act and not wait, and that we encourage our families to be vaccinated.

"Si se puede," he said, which means, 'Yes, we can.' "We have to act. We have to act now! We can't wait for tomorrow. Si se puede!"

Read more on the Cedars-Sinai Blog: COVID-19 Vaccine Update for Patients