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'It just takes education' | Officials host roundtable on vaccine hesitance, equity in Latino community

Gov. Brian Kemp and Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey were in Gainesville Monday.

GAINESVILLE, Ga. — Gov. Brian Kemp and Georgia Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey were in Gainesville Monday for a roundtable to discuss the COVID-19 vaccine in the Latino community.

According to the Governor's Office, Kemp and Toomey were joined by Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner John King and Gainesville community leaders.

The roundtable specifically addressed "hesitancy and equity among members of the Latino community" with regards to the vaccine. 

"It just takes education," Norma Hernandez, with the Latino Chamber of Congress, told 11Alive. "At the beginning, it was like, you know, 'I'm never getting COVID and my blood is thick. I'm strong. I'm Latino."

The community is already at high risk of complications from COVID. In fact, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Hispanics and Latinos are 1.3 times as likely to contract COVID as compared to whites, 3.2 times as likely to be hospitalized, and 2.3 times as likely to die.

So, on Monday, Hernandez joined state officials to find solutions to address vaccine hesitancy among Latinos, like creating messages in print and online in Spanish.

"If we tell you in your own language, you trust us more," Hernandez said. "You don't need an interpreter to tell you. There's a lot of things that get missed in interpretation."

Also key, she said, is letting the community know they don't need a social security number to get a shot.

"It doesn't matter if you have documentation, you will be vaccinated if that is what you want to do," she promised.

And when it comes to poultry plant workers, there are two options state officials are working on right now to help make sure the community is vaccinated. 

One is that the larger producers become vaccinators themselves, "so they can order the vaccine directly, and they have the medical staff that will be there for the employees," Hernandez explained.

Then, officials are encouraging Latinos who have been vaccinated to share their experiences.

"It's more valuable in our community, and Hispanic community, hearing it from someone in-person, then watching it on a screen or social media," Hernandez added.

She said once the Hispanic community overcomes vaccine hesitancy, the main issue will be supply. Once that increases, she said they have 400 taxicabs on stand-by willing to volunteer their services to help get those who need transportation get their vaccine.