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LA County’s vaccination rates are increasing for black and Latin American men

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Drew Bullock has heard the same concerns over and over again from men unsure about COVID-19 vaccines.

Concerns about possible risk to their immune system and how quickly vaccines were developed. Concerns about Tuskegee Experiment when hundreds of Black men in Alabama were withheld from treatment for syphilis.

“I think when it comes to specifically black men and our distrust in the medical industry, we create a Tuskegee 2.0 by not getting vaccinated,” said Bullock.

Aiming to be “funny but accurate,” he decided to tackle the misinformation and blatant falsehoods he found so alarming on social media by turning his YouTube page – which has 26,000 subscribers – into a source for Vaccine skeptics turned.

After an extremely slow start, Los Angeles County has made significant strides in vaccination rates for black and Latin American men ages 12 and older in recent months. Between May 9 and October 24, the latest available data, the percentage of black men vaccinated in these age groups increased from 36% to 54% and from 39% to 60.8% among Latinos in the same groups.

Black men still have the lowest vaccination rate in the county, regardless of race or gender. Only 39% of the 18-29 year olds received at least one dose of the vaccine; for Latino men it is 52%.

The situation becomes more urgent as public health officials expect the coronavirus to rise again, when racial and ethnic inequalities often worsen.

Public health workers fear that black and Latin American men will continue to wait to be vaccinated until they nearly die of COVID-19 or watch people they know die. Men of color say this distrust stems from their frustration that they only get the attention of health officials in times of crisis.

“It is a sad state in which the government agencies that are really responsible for keeping us all safe cannot be trusted,” said Barbara Ferrer, LA County’s director of public health, at a news conference last week. “We all need to know part of the reason this feeling is so prevalent, and the best way to do it is to fix it, be present, and make sure people have the resources that they can need to be healthy. “

That means answering people’s questions for as long as it takes, Ferrer said, as well as setting up handy vaccination sites, knocking on doors, and working with trusted community organizations.

District and community workers have exchanged views, producing markets, churches, soccer fields, Home Depot and auto parts stores. Men of color who are doctors or public health officials were also in attendance to raise concerns about whether the vaccine could harm masculinity and fertility.

The district has moved vaccination clinics and information events to working hours after work and no longer assumes that everyone has a family doctor to talk to about the vaccine.

Tracey Veal, a county public health officer who focuses on community vaccine distribution, said some men of color feel uncomfortable in traditional health care or government facilities because they may be noticed, whether it be because of them Tattoos or because they were once imprisoned.

The information and misinformation some men receive often comes from family and friends. Veal said that “vaccine warriors on the ground” are essential.

“If any of the leaders in this pack get enough answers to questions, it’s kind of a pack mentality,” Veal said.

Veal said she saw people show up to the county events with lists of home therapies that they say will help them fight off COVID-19, like taking vitamin C gums, Emergen-C Powder packages, vitamin D, zinc, cannabidiol oil, known as CBD, coconut oil or the herb Echinacea.

“The fact that people have embraced the idea that vitamins are like medicine that they actually equate it to a vaccine tells me there isn’t enough information,” Veal said. “The fact that people think they’re healthy enough to do that scares me in a way.”

Keith Parker said he was vaccinated months ago because he “couldn’t live on himself” if he passed the virus on to his 82-year-old mother. But even as the director of Project Fatherhood – an initiative to support fathers in Los Angeles – he doesn’t want to put any men in the group under pressure to get vaccinated.

The organization has brought in public health experts to address men’s concerns about the short time it took to develop the vaccines, its side effects, and their contents.

“It takes time to build trust in our communities; You can’t just come to us when you need something from us, ”said Parker. “You have to listen to our needs.”

Bullock said he was initially motivated to get vaccinated to protect himself and his parents, who are in their 60s. He also wanted to return to the clubs, parties, and homecoming of his alma mater North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, branded online as “World’s Greatest Homecoming”.

“Even in the conversation I had at the clubhouse to show people how the vaccine works, they say, ‘Yo, I’ve never had anyone explain it to me like that. OK, I’ll get it, ‘”said Bullock.

He has posted YouTube videos about why he was vaccinated, the long-term effects of COVID-19, and a response to unvaccinated NBA players. He also shares videos and answers questions on Twitter.

Bullock said he stopped counting how many people tweeted or sent him messages stating that they or their children were vaccinated after watching his videos.

But he remembers the two times he had an asthma attack and couldn’t breathe. When Bullock heard the effects of COVID-19 on breathing, he realized that the virus was different from the flu or the common cold. Most of his friends received the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, but a few others are still unvaccinated.

“I’m just a normal guy who did research,” said Bullock. “I can understand the fear and the struggles, and sometimes it’s a good conversation to say, ‘No, that’s it, brother.’ I think it really needs to be understood how dangerous this virus is, especially for us black men.

Dr. Efrain Talamantes, chief operating officer of AltaMed Health Services, which operates community clinics across Los Angeles and Orange, said many of the young men he spoke to about vaccines “don’t see COVID-19 as an immediate threat to their lives. ”

Some still think it’s mainly fatal to older adults or those with chronic health problems, he said, and health workers need to find better ways to describe to young men what COVID-19 is capable of without stigmatizing or blaming them.

“There is a [idea of] Masculinity that has been perpetuated in healthcare in a way, but I know that when talking to some of our patients who are young men, they want to know that they can get into healthcare and it is not like a surprise or a bad thing ” said Talamantes. “They want to be included in a more holistic, healthier approach, similar to what we do with women, and I’m not sure we’ve done enough.”

In Koreatown, Jose De Leon and his wife stopped going out with their three children when COVID-19 emerged last year, except for eating out and walking in masks. Back in the car everyone uses hand sanitizer, and when they get home they take off their clothes and put them in a bag until they can be washed.

But De Leon does not want to be vaccinated.

“You still have a chance of getting it whether you are vaccinated or not,” said De Leon. “I think it depends on how you take care of yourself and how safe you are and how careful you are with others.”

His wife contracted COVID-19 after being vaccinated for her job. He had several friends who got COVID-19. A friend’s stepfather died from the virus. He remembered when his mother and aunt caught COVID-19 and the family could only drop off pedialyte and protein milkshakes on their doorstep for two weeks.

But given his “kind of fear” of needles, distrust of the vaccine, fear of experiencing vaccine-related complications, and seeing other people recover from COVID-19, De Leon said he did not plan to receive the vaccine, until it is needed.

“I’ve been with people who had COVID and I didn’t get it,” said De Leon. “If I [COVID], I’ll get it. I’m not afraid.”

While the vaccine doesn’t guarantee someone won’t get COVID-19, the county’s public health experts recently found that unvaccinated people are seven times more likely to be infected and 27 times more likely to be hospitalized than those who received the vaccine.

Jaime Samano, 40, saw his father die of COVID-19 in January before vaccines were available. He fears that more people, especially men, will not think about getting vaccinated until someone they love dies.

(Nick Agro / For the Times)

When Jaime Samano received his first dose in March, he thought of his father.

Samano’s parents, both diabetics, had mostly stayed home, washed their hands and wore masks since the pandemic began. His father, born in Mexico, was a caring man and “an example of a father anyone could wish for”. He was looking forward to the vaccination, Samano said, but died two weeks after contracting COVID-19 on Jan. 2. He was 70 years old.

For Samano, he wondered: if the vaccine would help him even a little, why not?

“In a way, I’ve been wondering what happened to my father, and I also train on the field [COVID-19] So I want to get it as soon as possible, ”said Samano.

Jaime Samano is holding a photo of his father

Jaime Samano is holding a photo of his father, who died of COVID-19 on January 2.

(Nick Agro / For the Times)

Samano said talking to Talamantes, his doctor, and his wife, who also works in health care, reassured him about the safety of the vaccine. Most of his family, including his brothers and mother, are also vaccinated. When he talks to friends, he encourages them to do the same.

He still hears from unvaccinated people saying they won’t get it until their job requires it, they don’t know what’s in the vaccine, and even that it’s a government ploy.

“I never thought, ‘Well, if it’s a trick, the government will control me,'” Samano said. “For me this is a lot of nonsense.”

Times employee Rong-Gong Lin II contributed to this report.

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