Now that California has reopened, the state continues to look for ways of decreasing the number of positive cases and deaths caused by the novel coronavirus. In communities that were greatly impacted by the virus, COVID-19 vaccinations are becoming more accessible – and health officials say it is helping to slow down the spread.
But not everyone is onboard with getting vaccinated, and a recent spike in coronavirus cases worries health officials. According to the latest data, about 4 million Los Angeles County eligible residents have yet to be vaccinated.
The lack of vaccination is especially worrisome in communities of color, health authorities say, especially among the young. According to Los Angeles Public Health, only 52.3% of Latinx age 16 and over have received at least one dose of the vaccine. In comparison, 75.3% of those age 65 and over have been vaccinated.
Although there are many reasons why some people have not gotten vaccinated, one of the most common fears is that the vaccine was made and distributed too soon to know whether it is safe or not.
Boyle Heights resident Jason Perea, for one, says he will not be getting vaccinated until a few years of studies prove the vaccine is effective in preventing contracting COVID-19.
“I believe, and it’s scientifically proven, that a vaccine that is being delivered to the public before five years of testing is just an unwise idea,” the 24-year-old says.
Perea adds that he feels uncomfortable even calling it a vaccine because he thinks it does not operate like a “traditional vaccine” and is more of a “gene therapy jab.” He says “It modifies the DNA in your cells to produce one of the spike proteins in COVID-19, so it’s not a vaccine. It’s gene therapy. It’s gene modification.”
Perea’s argument is in disagreement with published data. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines do in fact give instructions for cells of the body to make a harmless piece called the spike protein, however the vaccine does not affect or interact with DNA in any way. The mRNA does not at any point enter the nucleus of the cell, which is where genetic material is kept.
Another reason why Perea says he will not be getting the vaccine is because he does not trust Western medicine. He believes traditional medicine, maintaining a healthy mind – not feeling overstressed or overworked– and a healthy amount of exercise is real health prevention.
“Traditional Chinese medicine, traditional Mexican medicine has existed and thrived as an industry for thousands of years,” he says. “So for Western medicine to come in and say ‘hey, trust me to inject you with all these chemicals and experimental gene therapies,’ it doesn’t seem normal to me and it’s not something I would try.”
Dr. Eloisa Gonzalez, Director of Integrative Medicine at the Wellness Center at LAC+USC Hospital in Boyle Heights and Director of Cardiovascular and School Health at the L.A. County Department of Public Health, believes misinformation spread via social media channels have instilled fear in some individuals that are skeptical about getting the vaccine.
“We encourage individuals who see information or hear information from friends, from family, from social media posts, to not just believe them automatically,” says
Dr. González, a media spokesperson for Public Health. “These messages often are not based in science, so just have a little bit of a degree of skepticism about what you hear from sources that are not official sources.”
Dr. González says that Latino men over the age of 18 are the least likely to be vaccinated, and that is concerning because Latino men have the highest rate of mortality from COVID-19. Latino men die at three times the rate of white men, she explains.
“Latino men seem to not be going for the vaccine and it would be important for them to understand that they are at very high risk should they get infected compared to white men or African American men,” she says. “I think we need to make sure that our community knows that so that they can use that information to decide whether or not it makes sense for them to get vaccinated.”
Dr. Gonzalez emphasizes that the vaccine is safe, effective and that anyone over the age of 16, regardless of immigration and/or health insurance status can receive the COVID-19 vaccine. She points out that individuals can turn to vaccinatelacounty.com to look at frequently asked questions if they need reliable information about the COVID-19 vaccine.
But because Perea opposes vaccination, he is also against targeted campaigns, like billboards in Latinx communities that use a different appeal than those in Hollywood or Silver Lake.
“If I’m going to Hollywood the advertisement might say ‘Stay safe out there’, but these billboards that I find in Boyle Heights and East LA, they’ll use photographs of families and they will literally say ‘What are you doing to battle COVID? Get the vaccine now.’”
As someone who worked in advertising before, he says he knows when a company is in the mindset of wanting certain groups to buy a product and changing the wording for other groups.
“I would really like to encourage those who are pushing the vaccine to kind of slow down, please respect people, and be open minded and prioritize what’s at stake here which is people’s health.” says Perea.
But those behind campaigns targeting Eastside neighborhoods say they are concerned about the vast difference in the number of cases and deaths in places like Hollywood, compared to a Latinx community such as Boyle Heights.
As of Thursday, Hollywood had 5,658 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 69 deaths, compared to Boyle Heights which was at 17,553 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 304 deaths.
At a recent vaccination clinic held at Legacy LA in Boyle Heights, Leadership Program Coordinator Tanya Borja said that they thought it would be important to have a vaccination site where community members could get the vaccine from people they trust.
The clinic was being co-sponsored by nonprofit emergency response organization CORE (Community Organized Relief Effort), as part of its targeted It’s Time Los Angeles campaign.
“The number among Latinx folks is pretty low for people that are vaccinated, so we want to get those numbers up, Borja said. “We just want to keep the community safe and healthy.”