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Nevada health officials reach out to Spanish speakers about COVID vaccinations

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

COVID vaccines have been widely available in Nevada, but the state had not been reaching out to Spanish speakers in rural communities. That is now changing. Bert Johnson with member station KUNR reports.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Richard.

BERT JOHNSON, BYLINE: On a recent Saturday, Olga Leon came to St. Gall Catholic Church in Gardnerville, Nev., to get her second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. The church is an hour south of Reno. Leon says at first she was really scared to get the shot. She'd seen all kinds of things on social media.

OLGA LEON: (Speaking Spanish).

JOHNSON: She says one of her friends and her mother-in-law both got really sick from the coronavirus, so they convinced her to get vaccinated. Another person at the church vaccine clinic is Liliana Duarte. She was just getting her first dose, not because she had to be convinced. Rather...

LILIANA DUARTE: (Speaking Spanish).

JOHNSON: Duarte says she just hasn't had the time. Even though the clinic was on a weekend, she was coming straight from work.

More than 70 people showed up to get shots this day. Public health workers say that's a healthy turnout for a town with just over 6,000 residents.

Diana Sande works at the Larson Institute for Health Impact and Equity at the University of Nevada, Reno. She organized this clinic on behalf of the state. Sande says they started back in September, working with the congregation to plan for it.

DIANA SANDE: We would sit outside in the foyer of the sanctuary and talk to people as they left. And then I came to a couple of the parent kind of meetings and spoke to different groups of parents about the vaccine.

JOHNSON: Sande and her staff had already put on successful vaccination events in Reno, but St. Gall is their first rural vaccine site. She says these clinics are only rolling out now because building those relationships takes a lot of time.

According to Henry Giraldo, those efforts have been paying off. He works for the church's Hispanic ministry.

HENRY GIRALDO: (Speaking Spanish).

JOHNSON: Giraldo says little by little, people in his community are realizing the vaccine is important, not just to take care of themselves, but also their families, their kids and their grandparents.

Jane Delgado says a lot of Latinos' initial hesitancy around the vaccine was more about practical concerns than ideology. She's president of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health.

JANE DELGADO: The major issue has been logistics hesitancy, that they couldn't - they did not want to take two days off from work to get the vaccine. They could not afford it. They could not do it.

JOHNSON: Delgado says many undocumented immigrants and their families are also concerned that showing up to get the vaccine could put them at risk for deportation. So Diana Sande at the University of Nevada, Reno and her colleagues decided not to require ID at their clinics. In fact, they tried to remove as many barriers as possible - no appointments required, Spanish translators available and so forth. Sande says that's crucial because many Latinos want to get vaccinated.

SANDE: They just want it to be easy, and easy for them is, oh, in a church where people speak their language, where they don't have to be fearful.

JOHNSON: According to national polling by the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than three-quarters of Latinos say they've gotten at least one dose of the COVID vaccine. But in Nevada, less than half of the state's Hispanic population has been vaccinated. And Sande says her team is ready to keep closing that gap. In the coming year, they'll be completely focused on rural outreach to Latinos.

For NPR News, I'm Bert Johnson in Gardnerville, Nev.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEQUERBOARD'S "KONICHIWA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.