By Jim Mendez
As a retired Latino physician in California, I have been troubled about the severe, negative impact Covid-19 has had on the health of Latinos.3,4,8 Based on April 1, 2020, Census data, Latinos represent about 15 million (39%) of the almost 40 million residents in California.2
The Covid-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected Latinos in every age group.3,4,8 As a result of Covid-19, the life expectancy of Latinos decreased by 3.0 years from 2019 to 2020.3,4,8
Latinos make up 39% of the population of California, yet they make up 56% of all the Covid-19 cases.4 As of Aug. 18, 2021, of the 3.3 million cases of Covid-19 in California, 1.8 million of the cases were among Latinos.
Since the beginning of the Covid pandemic, 29,000 Latinos have died in California from Covid. Latino deaths have accounted for 46% of all the California deaths due to Covid-19.4 Among all Californians aged 50–74, Latinos have the largest number and the highest percentage of Covid-19 cases and deaths due to Covid-19.4 The percentage of cases and deaths among Latinos aged 50–74 is more than twice the percentage of California Latinos in the 50–74 age group.4
Latinos have suffered a higher infection rate, a higher hospitalization rate and a higher death rate from Covid-19 infections than the general population.4 Even so, until early August 2021, Latinos (along with Afro-Americans) had lower vaccination rates than the rest of the California population.5,10,11
Latinos have been heavily affected by the Covid pandemic, but Latino essential workers have been especially hard hit. To answer questions I had regarding how Latino essential workers are responding to the pandemic and Covid, I surveyed Latino gardeners. Since the onset of the pandemic gardeners/landscapers have been designated as essential workers.12 As representatives of a group of Latino essential workers, I asked Latino gardeners/landscapers for their views on the virus, the pandemic, vaccines and vaccination.
I interviewed 22 Latino gardeners who work in my neighborhood; 21 men and one woman were interviewed. Their ages ranged from 23 to 65. Most were married. Education levels ranged from no formal schooling to two or three years of college.
I walked into my neighborhood and talked with gardeners I saw working. Although many of them spoke English, all except for one preferred to speak in Spanish. All except one gardener agreed to be interviewed. I did not count him in the survey. After introducing myself, I asked them questions regarding the following:
- Marital status
- Education level
- Immigration status
- What they knew about Covid-19 and vaccines
- Vaccination status and the vaccination status of family members
- If vaccinated, where they went to receive the vaccination
- Even though they all had smartphones, I asked them if they had a computer or used a computer in the home
- How do they get their news and information?
- If they were not vaccinated, I asked them why they were not vaccinated and then listened
Results of the Survey
Sixty-six percent (14 of 21) of the gardeners interviewed were vaccinated. Family members of those who were vaccinated were usually also vaccinated. They generally had a good understanding regarding the Covid pandemic, the virus and the vaccine. All of them knew the vaccine was free, how to get the vaccine and where it was available.
The main reasons given to be vaccinated were to avoid becoming sick and to protect their families. Given that they have no safety net, most expressed concern that if they were to become ill, they would not be able to work and provide for their families.
Eighty-three percent (10 of 12 ) of the gardeners aged 40 and older were vaccinated. Only 44% (4 of 9) of the gardeners under 40 were vaccinated, even though most of their spouses were vaccinated.
One of the two unvaccinated gardeners older than 40 was an evangelical. He believed Jesus would protect him from Covid and said he was not afraid of dying.
The wife of one of the vaccinated gardeners older than 40 also refused to be vaccinated because she believed Jesus would protect her. Her husband said she was also concerned about the possibility of a chip in the vaccine.
There was a generational difference as to where the gardeners got their news information. The older gardeners watched Spanish-language TV such as Univision and/or listened to Radio Bilingüe for news and information.
The younger gardeners (who often were comfortable speaking in either English or Spanish) obtained their news and their (mis)information from social media, the Internet and mainstream TV news (ABC, NBC, CBS and often Fox News).
The gardeners older than 40 were well-informed with accurate information about the pandemic, the virus, Covid-19, mask use and the vaccines. One of the gardeners older than 40 was upset that he was given the J&J because his understanding was that the J&J vaccine was not as effective in preventing infection as the Moderna and Pfizer.
Most of them had friends or relatives who had become ill or died with Covid-19. One said he was concerned that the information he gave to get the vaccination might be used to deport him, but he also said he was more afraid of Covid than ICE. The gardeners got the vaccinations at a variety of places (parks, pharmacies, clinics, the airport, mobile trailers, schools).
Among those who were unvaccinated, the younger gardeners said they did not get the vaccine because they were concerned about the possibility of known and mainly unknown side effects. Some concerns were real, most were false. A common response was that they didn’t think they needed to worry about it because they were young and healthy.
In summary, 83% of the surveyed gardeners older than 40 were vaccinated. Gardeners under 40 are not getting vaccinated at the same rate. The gardeners older than 40 were able to find a place to get their vaccinations, get time off work to get the vaccinations, understand the seriousness of the disease and understand that the benefits of the vaccination outweigh the risks.
To a large extent, the younger gardeners did not feel threatened by the pandemic. A 23-year-old said, “I’m not worried. It will be fine.” Reasons younger gardeners gave for not getting the vaccination included not being able to take time off from work or just being too busy.
Several said they were concerned about side effects but would not go into details as to which side effects. None mentioned that the vaccines were not FDA approved as the reason to not get the vaccination.
From the survey results, it appears that younger Latino gardeners are not getting vaccinated as a result of exposure to misinformation regarding Covid-19, the risk of the vaccine and the lack of benefits of the vaccine. These younger gardeners get misinformation from the same sources the larger population gets misinformation—social media, the Internet and Fox News.
The majority of gardeners older than 40 tended to not use computers. Instead, they obtained their news and information from Radio Bilingüe and/or Univision. Both are known to be reliable sources of news, information and facts rather than conspiracy theories. Jorge Ramos, a news anchor for Univision, is felt to be one of the most trusted news anchors on TV.9
There is evidence that Latinos, especially younger Latinos, are being targeted with online misinformation from TV, cable, YouTube and other social media.7 By not using online social media and not listening to right-wing propaganda on TV, the gardeners older than 40 appear to have less exposure to misinformation.
There are plenty of Spanish-language and English-language sources of misinformation online but not so much on Spanish-speaking TV or cable news media. Since Fox News Latino turned off in 2017, there has been no equivalent of Fox News for misinformation in the Spanish-speaking TV or cable news media.
Addressing misinformation online, in English and Spanish, will be necessary to increase the vaccination rate among younger Latinos and the general population. Just like the general population, unless the vaccination rate is increased among the younger Latinos we will not be able to alter the impact Covid-19 is having on Latinos overall. A recent study showed Latinos are now increasing their rate of getting vaccinated.11 This would bode well if it continues.
I am not a sociologist, an epidemiologist or a statistician. Yet, as a physician, I have read enough scientific studies to realize the small size of my survey means the results still need to be considered anecdotal rather than empirical. Nevertheless, I believe that the conclusions from my survey are accurate.
Jim Mendez came to Fresno in 1977 for his medical residency training at what was then called the Valley Medical Center. He stayed to practice medicine and raise a family. He is now a retired physician and a community activist.
- J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci, 2021, Vol. 76, No. 3, e81–e87 doi:10.1093/geronb/gbaa158: The Disproportionate Impact of Covid-19 on Older Latino Mortality.
- www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CID/DCDC/Pages/Covid-19/Race-Ethnicity.aspx; Aug. 18, 2021, data from the California Department of Public Health on Covid-19 race and ethnicity.
- www.latimes.com/projects/california-coronavirus-cases-tracking-outbreak/covid-19-vaccines-distribution/#zip-code-map; July 20, 2021, report in the Los Angeles Times reporting the demographic (race, age location) distribution of vaccine recipients.
- www.yalemedicine.org/news/5-things-to-know-delta-variant-covid; five things to know about the delta variant of Covid from Yale Medicine. Originally published on June 28, 2021; updated on Aug. 18, 2021.
- https://apnews.com/article/joe-biden-donald-trump-race-and-ethnicity-media-misinformation-9696392bf389ba8ca3441d2314abcefa; March 7, 2021, article from the Associated Press on Spanish-language misinformation campaigns targeting Latinos.
- www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/vsrr/VSRR015-508.pdf; “Between 2019 and 2020, life expectancy decreased by 3.0 years for the Hispanic population (81.8 to 78.8).”
- www.pewresearch.org/hispanic/2010/11/15/national-latino-leader-the-job-is-open/; in a Pew Hispanic Center survey, Jorge Ramos achieved the highest leadership score.
- www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/latest-data-on-covid-19-vaccinations-race-ethnicity/; Kaiser Family Foundation review of CDC data for California shows that “30% of vaccinations have gone to Hispanic people, while they account for 63% of cases, 48% of deaths and 40% of the total population in the state.”
- https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#vaccination-demographic; CDC data as of Aug. 22, 2021, shows that in the past 14 days Latinos are getting vaccinated at a much higher rate than they had previously.