By the end of April, I had become the second person in my family to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. It is not simply that my family did not want to receive the vaccine, but they were uncertain whether they were in fact eligible for it.
Rumors in the Latinx community about undocumented people in Minnesota being turned away from receiving the vaccine were spreading. A fair amount of vaccination sites lacked translated information for non-English speakers, or would fail to reach out to Latinx communities. Additionally, vaccination sites do not always know what type of documentation is needed, and they also sometimes exclude documentation questions in their Frequently Asked Questions section. Although the process to make vaccine appointments should be fairly simple, for my family and friends it came with difficulties that are unique to the Latinx community. When I started looking for appointments, I already had a list of vaccination sites, but I encountered the problems previously mentioned.
The first problem was finding information about legal documentation needed for vaccine appointments. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website states, “The federal government is providing the vaccine free of charge to all people living in the United States, regardless of immigration or health insurance status.” Knowing this, I was wondering why rumors were spreading about having to be documented to receive the vaccine. I discovered that a Cub Foods in south Minneapolis had turned people away for not having the correct documentation. Having a valid Mexican ID was not sufficient. As a means of protection, these stories were spread to make sure that undocumented people would avoid locations like these.
Along with inconsistent information about necessary documentation was the problem that not all vaccination websites have materials translated into Spanish. This makes it incredibly difficult for Spanish-speakers to navigate their websites. For my family, it meant that I was responsible for finding vaccine information and appointments, a source that might not be readily available for all households. As I was testing Walgreens’ translation abilities, I was only able to find Spanish as a translatable language, but it was inconsistent. Information would be in Spanish on the home page, but back to English on the vaccine appointment page. I was not able to figure out how to change it back to Spanish. Luckily, I am able to translate for my family, but I know that this is also not an option for everyone. This creates barriers for the Latinx immigrant community that, more than not, tend to be proficient in Spanish only.
Additionally, the majority of people I had spoken to from the Latinx community had not known about the Minnesota Vaccine Connector. The few that had known skewed toward a younger demographic and discovered it through white peers, their universities or social media. This could explain the lower number of vaccinations in the Latinx community.
Most important, when making phone calls, I ran into the problem of the COVID-19 vaccine distributors themselves not knowing whether documentation was needed. I called a Walgreens about half an hour away from my house. When I asked if documentation was required, the office assistant seemed confused and had to ask another worker. After a few minutes, they came back to confirm that an ID was needed, but was not exactly sure which IDs would be acceptable. I asked as some of my family members only have Mexican-issued IDs. Because of their uncertainty, I decided to not take the risk to schedule an appointment there.
Since Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) communities have lower vaccination rates than white Minnesotans, it is important for COVID-19 vaccination sites and Minnesota overall to acknowledge their faults and continue to work on being accessible to immigrant communities, especially Latinx communities that have a language barrier, as they tend to have essential jobs.
In order to increase the number of Latinx people receiving the vaccine, we must ensure that sites follow the guidelines for distribution, add in translated materials while also finding methods to push for vaccination appointment sign-ups in Latinx communities, and ensure that sites are fully aware of the documentation guidelines to provide a sense of assurance for undocumented people.
Dania Barrera Carrasco is a sophomore at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities studying sociology of law, criminology and deviance and Chicano/Latino studies.
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