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As vaccines roll out, Latino communities largely left behind

"It's discrimination, really."
Latinx community vaccination
Posted at 10:33 AM, Mar 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-16 14:19:21-04

As a 34-year-old farmworker who came to the United States in 2018, Maria Carolina has become used to working long hours in farm fields around Lake Worth, Florida, where she lives. But this single Latino mother, who was once an educator in her home country and now works to keep Americans fed, has struggled to get vaccinated.

The pandemic has been difficult and sometimes deadly for Carolina and her coworkers. Early on in the pandemic, there was little protection provided for frontline agriculture workers. Even now, the COVID-19 positivity rate for farmworkers in Palm Beach County hovers around 30 percent.

"It's been so difficult living through the pandemic. The protection was not there, and it was so easy for and of us to become ill," Carolina explained through a translator.

Residents trying to receive their first dose of the vaccine must demonstrate Florida residency by either presenting a valid driver's license or proof of a residential address. Many undocumented workers, though, don't have either, meaning they're ineligible to get the vaccine here.

As the executive director of the Guatemalan-Mayan Center, Marina Blanco has watched as members of the Latino community she serves struggle to get vaccinated.

"The truth of the matter is they aren’t treating it as a public health issue," Blanco explained.

"It's discrimination, really," she added.

There are more than 60 million Latinos in this country. So far, about 9 percent of them have gotten the first dose of the vaccine. The COVID-19 death rate among Latinos in the U.S. is disproportionately higher than other demographics.

"Nobody is ensuring the farmworkers get vaccinated. No one was providing protection to work in the field even though they were working to get food on the table," Blanco said.

One of the biggest barriers facing Latino communities when it comes to vaccinations is language. In Lake Worth, Florida, there are more than two dozen indigenous languages spoken. For 41 million people in the U.S., their primary language is Spanish, and many vaccination sites are only offered in English.

The Guatemalan-Maya Center is using translators to help members of the community secure appointments. But even when an appointment is scheduled, many farmworkers end up missing their chance to get a vaccine for fear of being fired if they miss work.

"We are essential workers and it’s because of us that people are being fed daily," Carolina said about the rollout of the vaccine.