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Texas State study seeks to reach vaccine-hesitant Hispanics

A Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is prepared during a pop-up vaccine clinic at Cristo Rey Church in Austin on July 24, 2021.
Michael Minasi
A Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is prepared during a pop-up vaccine clinic at Cristo Rey Church in Austin on July 24, 2021.

Hispanics have made up a disproportionate level of COVID deaths in Texas, comprising 41% of statewide deaths. And Hispanics overall have been about twice as likely to contract the disease than the non-Hispanic white population, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Still, about 35% of Texas Latinos have yet to get a single dose of a COVID vaccine, and a new project from researchers at Texas State University has studied the most effective way to reach the population. Public relations professor Jennifer Scharlach, who led the study, joined Texas Standard to share more about the findings. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: We should note your research has a specific purpose. Tell us about the campaign that this information is going to inform. 

Jennifer Scharlach: We were approached by the Texas Association for Mexican American Chambers of Commerce. They had written a grant with a program called Your Shot Texas, which was working to get people vaccinated in Texas. They had already launched a campaign, and they wanted to find out more about why people were hesitant. They had ran their first campaign for about six months and were really wanting to see if they could make a dent by using some data.

We worked with them to create — based off of the theory of planned behavior — a survey that really got into predicting behavioral intentions regarding health care topics like vaccinations, mammograms, those types of things. Then from there, we looked at other research that was going on in other countries like India to find out what obstacles people were really having on getting the vaccine. So we wanted to provide the data to then be able to create a new campaign that would really be able to reach out and answer some of those hesitancies that people were having to get vaccinated.

How many unvaccinated Latinos in Texas did you contact, and what did they say about why they’re not getting vaccinated? 

Out of the 346 individuals that actually responded to it, we had 255 that completed it fully and met the requirements of the people that we were interested in learning from.

We learned several things. First of all, you kind of have some feelings about what you’re going to find. And what we found was that almost half of Texas Hispanics that were unvaccinated had expressed in the survey a very strong disagreement about getting the vaccine before December 2022. Our respondents also showed a strong hesitancy in getting the vaccine in the future. The data showed that while respondents knew that they could get the vaccine, there were multiple obstacles that were there to obtaining it. And basically, there was a theme in those obstacles — trust in the vaccine effectiveness, trust in the vaccine provider and really insufficient information led the largest obstacles to them getting the vaccine.

Could you say more about “trust” – and what hints do you have about what that means? 

The top five obstacles that we found were doubt in the vaccine; doubt in the long-term, genetic effects of the vaccine types; insufficient trust in the vaccination providers; insufficient information in the vaccine; and insufficient information regarding the potential adverse effects. One of the things that we that really came out that was quite interesting as well was that there was a strong correlation between higher levels of education and a stronger hesitancy in getting the vaccine.

There was also a significant difference between men and women. Women were significantly more likely to disagree with getting the vaccine. Secondary data in other vaccine hesitancy – not just COVID, but other vaccine hesitancy – shows in the Hispanic population that women are usually the decision-maker for the family on health care issues.

What accounts for the positive correlation between higher education and vaccine hesitancy? 

That’s something that we’re still reviewing in the data to see if we can find any more reasons for that. These were our initial findings and something that kind of stood out to us. That’s something that’s very telling. Usually — and I’m not sure; I haven’t done secondary data on that particular topic — it wasn’t something that we were expecting.

Tell us what you hope to do with this data. 

Ultimately, we’re working with TAMACC. Their goal is to save lives, and our goal is to give them the best information that we can give them to help them in that process.

In terms of recommendations, are you being asked to provide them? What would you say knowing what you know right now? 

What we really have recommended is that future healthcare campaigns targeting unvaccinated Hispanic Texans should strive to inspire trust and expertise in the knowledge of the coronavirus and the vaccine. We recommend traditional methods of public relations. One of the things that we also studied was how they got their information, and there was a large number of individuals that took the survey that got their information from cable and local television news sources, as well as social media. So again, some more research needs to be done there, but we recommend traditional methods of earned media for cable TV news and then providing relevant and timely information on the online platforms, especially social media, and particularly on Facebook.

We also feel like it should be geared towards Hispanic women, and we want to make sure that the information provided is transparent and authentic. So the messaging should stay positive and information to combat that misinformation and the fear of both the vaccine and the virus.

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