Dr. Juan Salazar from Connecticut Children’s Medical Center Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

With vaccine uptake among Hispanic Connecticut residents lagging behind the broader population, officials gathered Friday at Hartford’s Hispanic Health Council to urge parents to vaccinate their children ahead of the holidays. 

The afternoon press conference was scheduled following federal regulators’ authorization this week of the Pfizer pediatric formula for kids between 5 and 11 years old and was largely an appeal to Hispanic parents. 

In a message that oscillated between English and Spanish, Dr. Juan Salazar from Connecticut Children’s Medical Center said COVID-19’s threat to children should not be minimized. Since the pandemic’s outset, 2 million kids between 5 and 11 have been infected, 38,000 have been hospitalized and 92 have died, Salazar said. A young child had to be intubated at Connecticut Children’s due to COVID-19 earlier this week, he said. 

“Some people may say ‘That’s not that many.’ If you’re a parent? That’s your child? Think about it. Think what it means,” Salazar said. “If you can do something to prevent that death, that hospitalization, why would you not do it? You prevent them from going outside in the middle of lightning, prevent them from crossing the street with cars coming through… you put a seatbelt on them, although those events are rare, because you protect them.”

But officials at the event also focussed on disparities in vaccine uptakes in communities of color. U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said about 65% of Connecticut’s white population had been vaccinated against COVID-19. Estimates are lower for both the Hispanic population at 55% and the Black population at 49%, according to Blumenthal’s office.

“The blunt fact is that there are wide disparities,” Blumenthal said.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

Speakers at the press conference pointed to a few possible reasons for the uneven uptake. Blumenthal said health disparities are often tied to broader issues like economic security. U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy said workplace flexibility was also a factor. While the midday press event was taking place, Murphy said his young son was on his way to get a first dose of the vaccine. 

“My wife was able to bring my son to a vaccine appointment today because she’s got a job that’s flexible enough, that allows her to take two hours to go and get that vaccine appointment. That’s not life for everybody in Hartford, Connecticut,” Murphy said. “That’s not life for people working two or three jobs.”

Kenneth Barela, CEO of Hispanic Health Council, said his organization was working to conduct outreach, and direct people in the community to accurate sources of information on COVID-19 and the available vaccines. 

“Keep in mind, a lot of the folks we work with, vaccinations maybe one of the last things that they’re concerned about. They’re worried about some of the basics,” Barela said. “They’re just trying to figure out how to eat, how to live with a shelter over their heads. We have to address these issues on a very holistic level.”

Murphy and Blumenthal said they hoped some of the economic stress may ultimately be eased by President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better legislation, which they expected to be raised for a vote in the House later that afternoon. 

But several speakers also pointed to misinformation, particularly online as a source of vaccine resistance in the Hispanic community. Murphy said a recent study found that social media platforms were less diligent about removing or flagging misinformation in non-English content than they were in English posts. An Avaaz study from last April found that Facebook was slow to issue warnings on 68% of Spanish language content as opposed to 29% of English content.  

“It’s a decision the social media companies have made to spend more time investigating misinformation on English language sites than on Spanish language sites despite the fact that folks who are primarily Spanish speakers aren’t spending any less time online,” Murphy said. 

Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said vaccination was especially important for families who planned to travel during the coming holidays to places where vaccination rates are not as high as they are in Connecticut. 

“[Kids] need to be able to travel to visit family over the holidays and not worry about getting sick or getting their loved ones sick. So please, if you’re a parent, let your kid have that protection and have that piece of mind,” Bronin said.