By Grace Arnn
The vaccination gap between white and minority populations is closing as vaccines become more widely available throughout Arkansas and employers are requiring employees get the shots.
Some of the jobs that were at high risk for COVID-19 transmission are now requiring vaccinations. Service-industry jobs are high-exposure and invite virus transmission due to their social and in-person nature.
Meat-processing companies such as Tyson Foods Inc. enforced vaccinations among their employees, and that affecting the Hispanic population in Northwest Arkansas, said Mark Williams, dean of the Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health at the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences , or UAMS.
In fact, the vaccination rate of Hispanic individuals has exceeded the white vaccination rate in Washington County, the home of Tyson. As of May 20, 28.6% of the white population and 26.4% of the Hispanic population in Washington County were fully vaccinated. By Nov. 14, 46.2% of the white population and 63.8% of the Hispanic population were fully vaccinated.
Other companies, such as Walmart, have instilled employer-mandated vaccinations, as well.
“They’re simply being given no choice if they want to keep their employment,” Williams said.
Furthermore, state-based community groups and UAMS have provided on-site vaccination clinics to specifically reach Hispanic and Marshallese populations in Northwest Arkansas and other populations in the Arkansas Delta, Williams said.
A solid level of trust is important in providing COVID-related information, education and vaccinations, said Zac Brown, the assistant director of communications at Pat Walker Health Center at the University of Arkansas. A lack of insurance or distrust in the healthcare system can discourage people from visiting physicians or offices.
Rather, specific institutions that minority groups trust have found success bringing information and services related to COVID-19 to their communities. For example, some African American communities have utilized churches as vaccination sites, Brown said. The percentage of fully vaccinated Black individuals in Pulaski County has trailed the rate of fully vaccinated white people by about ten percentage points since May, according to Arkansas Department of Health data. As of Nov. 14, 40% of the Black population and 51% of the white population were fully vaccinated in Pulaski County.
There’s been a stepped up effort to reach non-English speakers with information about COVID-19. In Northwest Arkansas, the Northwest Arkansas Council has paired with the state health department to provide educational and promotional COVID vaccine information in Spanish, Marshallese and other languages, Brown said. Effective outreach to diverse communities means going beyond simple translation efforts and ensuring the information provided by the government is culturally sound.
Margarita Solórzano, the executive director of the Hispanic Women’s Organization of Arkansas, said her group is “making sure that the communications that any of these agencies, either at a state level or local level, are culturally and linguistically appropriate for the immigrant and Latino community.”
The Springdale-based Hispanic women’s group is a part of the Latino task force at the state level that reviews COVID-related information and daily statistics to reach the Spanish-speaking community, Solórzano said.
Barriers still remain for vaccination for Hispanic and other minority groups. Some service industry jobs don’t offer health insurance, which decreased the possibility of employees visiting a physician, Williams said. Recent studies have shown “that having health insurance plays a big part in whether or not someone is vaccinated,” Williams said.
Increased mortality rates may be influencing the increase in vaccination rates, too, Williams said.
“It’s something to say that people are simply realizing how serious the pandemic is,” Williams said.