By Eduardo Stanley
“Some people were scared because of rumors about the vaccine,” said Rolando Sandoval, a promotor de salud for Cultiva La Salud, a community organization dedicated to education and health prevention for Latinos in Fresno County. “Rumors like they are going to inject you with a chip, or that vaccines were made with fetuses…All these influenced people.”
The vaccination campaign is advancing slowly now in the San Joaquin Valley after a good beginning. The difficulty to convince certain groups includes Latinos, and Cultiva La Salud is doing its part to promote the safety of the vaccines and the need to increase the number of vaccinated people to obtain herd immunity, which is about the only one way to control the pandemic. And promotores de salud can be of good help.
“It’s an effective model; promotores de salud are community members who can communicate effectively with people, talk to them in their languages,” explained Genoveva Islas, executive director of Cultiva La Salud. “They receive a 20-hour training about Covid 19, the vaccines, tests, and resources to handle the pandemic.”
The concept of promotores de salud (health promoters) comes from Mexico, where they play a crucial role in educating the community, particularly hard-to-reach areas and groups, about health prevention. They receive training that allows them, in certain cases, to implement basic first aid measures and connect patients with doctors, clinics and other resources.
“Other community groups, such as Hmong and Punjabi Sikhs, are also using promotores to reach out to their community,” said Islas. “They are community members, people who know their communities, not outsiders.”
Latinos were hit hard by the pandemic. As of July 14, there were about 1.7 million cases of Covid-19 among Latinos in California. Latinos represent 39% of the population of California, yet they make up 56% of all the Covid-19 cases.
Yet, a high percentage of the Latino community is not vaccinated. And here is when the work of organizations like Cultiva La Salud and its promotores can make a difference. The point was to organize events in rural communities promoting vaccination and explain to people the resources available to them.
“The first event we organized was in Orange Cove. We got more than 500 people,” said Islas. “Many of them couldn’t get vaccinated because of their ages.”
But it’s not just about vaccines.
“As promotores, we assist during the events registering people, and before that we do community outreach to promote the event. We also follow up on cases of people who tested positive for Covid-19, we do quarantine support and provide information about available financial support for them—including unemployment,” said Sandoval. “We come to the communities in need.”
He continued by explaining the positive reactions from farmworkers about the vaccine. “They were pleased and grateful [that] they got vaccinated.”
Promotores usually go the extra mile helping their communities.
“I love what I am doing,” said Sandoval, a graduate of Fresno State. “You feel good helping others.”
One of the most important tasks these organizations have is to confront mistrust. And they heard it all.
“Some people say they don’t trust the vaccines because they were created in a very short period of time, but that isn’t the case,” said Islas. “These vaccines were in the making for many years, they were tested, and they are still under constant observation. You can certainly trust them.”
Educating the public isn’t easy, especially when you have to tell them to keep on respecting some protocols regarding Covid-19 to avoid infections.
“I continue using the mask when I go out, I feel more comfortable,” said Sandoval. “And I do it also out of respect for others because I don’t know if they have their immune system compromised.”
Eduardo Stanley is the editor of the Community Alliance newspaper. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.