Because of this, the once hesitant vaccinees change their minds


Transportation, translation, and a trusted source of vaccine information were among the barriers, but public health workers and a new initiative are working to overcome these.

El Milagro Clinic in McAllen, Texas has played a critical role in ensuring that patients receive the correct information about the vaccine and are meeting their appointments.

Retired worker Zeferino Cantu is diabetic, has high blood pressure and has no health insurance, but has waited months for the vaccine. He finally got his first shot at the clinic last week because he is more concerned about the virus than about the side effects of the vaccine.

In Spanish, Cantu told CNN that the coronavirus was more dangerous as it can affect everything, even your mental performance.

The South Texas clinic is one of 100 free, nonprofit clinics in 16 states that have received a financial boost from Project Finish Line. The initiative aims to give one million “hard-to-reach unvaccinated people” access to the vaccine. More than 115,000 people have been vaccinated since the initiative started in June, according to Joe Agoada, CEO of Project Finish Line and Sostento.

South Texas, a region with a predominantly Latino population, was hit hard by the pandemic. And nationally, Latinos are among the hardest hit by the pandemic, but have received vaccinations at far lower rates than white Americans. When the Covid-19 vaccine was first approved, some Latinos were skeptical and feared it could make them sick.

Latinos are among the only two groups underrepresented in vaccination relative to their proportion of the US population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Latinos make up 17.2% of the US population but 16.7% of the fully vaccinated people and blacks make up 12.4% of the US population but only 10.1% of the fully vaccinated.
At the beginning of the vaccine rollout, only a small percentage of vaccine suppliers were in mostly Latin American zip codes in Texas. There are fewer vendors in rural areas, which has resulted in some Texans having to drive long distances to get a vaccine.

The importance of deep communal ties

Sylvia Aguilar knows Cantu, the retired worker, very well.

“He always told me I was coming back. I’m coming back, I’m not ready yet,” says the El Milagro Clinic authorization administrator.

He returned a few months later as the city, which was already badly affected by the pandemic, saw an increase like other parts of the United States due to the Delta variant.

Families get sick and are scared, says Sylvia Aguilar.

Families get sick and are scared, says Aguilar. They don’t know where to go – a common barrier here in vaccinating those who need it most.

The U.S. Department of Health estimates that about 44% of vaccine holdouts are convincing, but even they can be hard to convince.

“I wanted to see other people’s reactions before I got them,” says Juan Manuel Salinas. “If they were okay I would.”

Salinas just got its second chance.

And although the 55-year-old racehorse trainer’s daughter worked in the clinic, it took her months to convince her father to make an appointment and keep it.

“He had all the resources. I would say, should I pick you up? We do this for free here at the clinic and he said, ‘Yeah, I’m going. I’m going'” Bree Salinas, his daughter and the clinic’s finance manager, says.

On a mission to vaccinate a million

Project Finish Line was launched by Sostento in June. The nonprofit was founded in 2019 to address the opioid crisis and help marginalized and disadvantaged communities. The organization joined the Pandemic Response last year to facilitate access to care and testing.

“We hope to get the people on the fence access to vaccines,” says Agoada. “I call them ‘the unvaccinated, but the willing.”

In some communities, concerns about vaccination have nothing to do with the vaccine itself. Some common reasons are lack of transportation and fear of missing out on work.

Agoada explains how the nonprofit partnered with a Georgia poultry factory to set up a pop-up clinic. Workers could get vaccinated on a Saturday and take Sunday off when side effects such as fatigue occurred.

Joe Agoada is committed to providing access for

The initiative also provides funding for pop-up vaccinations in rural areas like Muniz, Texas, phone lines for public relations, and even helps organize free trips from Uber.

“We hear from people who take the bus to and from work every day, cannot take a day off and really need help with this transport barrier,” says Agoada.

And for clinics like McAllen, persistence and patience work best.

“It gets to the point where employees feel like they sound like a broken record,” says Marisol Resendez, managing director of the El Milagro Clinic.

“They’ll come around, there are a lot of people willing just not to have the tools, information, and resources.”

CNN’s Carolyn Sung contributed to this report.

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