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  • Itziri Gonzalez-Barcenas

“Vaccine Hesitancy” Narrative Does Not Explain Latino Men’s Low Vaccination Rates



The simplified and toxic narrative of Latino men’s supposed “vaccine hesitancy” has insufficiently explained the socioeconomic and cultural factors affecting our community and has actually become a driving force of continued low vaccination. Searching “Latino Men vaccinating” or “hombres Latinos se vacunan” online brings up a queue of stories that say Latino men are not vaccinating. Constantly bombarding the Latino male community with that type of information does not alleviate their concerns nor encourages them to vaccinate.

Instead of repeating the self-fulfilling narrative that Latino men don’t and won’t vaccinate, we are better off addressing their specific questions and access barriers as it relates to their other responsibilities. This starts by going beyond the statistics into the lived experiences of Latino men and the many barriers they face daily.

Even before the pandemic, lower educational attainment for first-generation Latino immigrants in the United States meant limited job prospects with lower wages and less benefits like paid time off (PTO), vacation time, and access to health and retirement options.

Latinos “are more likely than workers of any other race/ethnicity to be in poverty.”

Take my father for example. Growing up in rural Mexico in the 70’s and 80’s, he did not have access to education like I did in the U.S. The lack of infrastructure and qualified teachers discouraged him. More importantly, his family had eight mouths to feed and not enough money to do so. My dad lacks formal education, but he has a strong work ethic. He has worked harder than I will ever have to for less pay: “Nearly six in ten (57%) first-generation Latinos report annual household incomes of less than $30,000.”

The pandemic has only exacerbated these inequities, creating an additional challenge of safeguarding one’s own health while trying to support a family. My dad was an essential worker at the peak of the pandemic out of obligation, not by choice. He worked on the ‘cosmetic final details,’ as he described it, of recently finished buildings such as homes, offices, and condos. He spent over 12 hours each day at a job where no sanitary measures were taken. This increased exposure with little safety nets has also really affected other Latino men who value providing for their loved ones too: “78% place a high level of importance on being able to financially support a family.” Sometimes this means having to work multiple jobs even if they have to risk their physical and mental health.

Despite Latino men’s higher risk of contracting the virus through their work, their vaccination rates remain especially low because they place a higher value on taking care of their loved ones. Latino men fear they could be fired and replaced at any moment, so missing work is out of the question. With their families depending on them, losing their job is not a gamble they want to take. This helps explain how in LA County, “39% [Latino men] got one shot compared to 59% of white men and 46% of Latina women.”

Latino men have very legitimate concerns competing for their time and attention. Unfortunately, those often come before the COVID vaccine. While this is complicated to address head-on, the most important thing is to focus on spreading facts and answering Latino men’s questions. This means going beyond the bad narrative of Latino hesitancy and getting into the specifics they care about: assuring them the vaccine is free and accessible without insurance, that it does not cause infertility, and that they will still get paid if they miss a day of work from the side effects.

Until we take these steps, reporting numbers on vaccine uptake among Latino men supports a toxic narrative built on biased data and systems that are more indicators of access to information than hesitancy. Latino men are not hesitant; they are busy and financially stretched. In the meantime, we need the internet to deliver better, more direct, and culturally relevant answers to Latino men searching about the vaccine in their communities to protect them from becoming easy targets for vaccine disinformation.

Read my other post about Latino Evangelicals here to discover their unique needs.

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