FIEL study targets barriers to COVID vaccine information in immigrant community

The advocacy group FIEL wanted better answers as to why critical information about the COVID-19 vaccine was not getting to everyone in the Houston area’s immigrant community. To answer that question, FIEL commissioned a study that involved knocking on more than 7,000 doors in four areas of town.

“What barriers did you find that you didn’t realize existed?” asked KPRC 2′s Robert Arnold.

“The number one barrier that we found is people accessing information,” said FIEL executive director, Cesar Espinosa.

Espinosa said 10 canvassers, called Promotoras, knocked on 7,710 doors in zip codes 77078, 77087, 77502 and 77504. The work allowed FIEL to gather vaccine information on 1,974 individuals. According to US Census data, the areas of town where FIEL conducted this study have large Hispanic populations and average household incomes between $33,000 and $52,000 a year.

“There was a lack of access to the internet. There was a lack of access to different resources. There were language barriers,” Espinosa said.

Espinosa said when it comes to technology, many immigrant families only have cell phones, no laptops. At the beginning of the vaccine rollout, many sites offering information were not mobile-friendly.

“That turned out to be a very big challenge for some people,” said Espinosa.

Espinosa said other key barriers were transportation and time. He said most people in the immigrant community couldn’t afford to stay home, and when they lost one job to the pandemic, they would have to get two, sometimes three or four part-time jobs to make up the loss. Espinosa said many respondents indicated this left them little time to think about things like getting vaccinated.

“They’re still having to make ends meet, but now in a much more complex way,” said Espinosa.

Espinosa said a lack of access to verified health information also created distrust among many in the immigrant community. Study findings show in three of the zip codes, anywhere between 29% and 47% of respondents refused to answer why they were not interested in getting the vaccine.

“In order to talk to our community, you have to talk to our community. You have to meet them where they feel most comfortable, where they’ll open the door to you,” said Espinosa. “The only way to combat this is once again through community knowledge, to explain it to people and to make it easy for people.”

Espinosa said in the immediate, this study helped ensure city and county websites providing health information are mobile friendly and there is a greater understanding of the need for more neighborhood-based education when it comes to helping the immigrant community access information on a variety of health topics and during times of a disaster.

About the Author:

Award winning investigative journalist who joined KPRC 2 in July 2000. Husband and father of the Master of Disaster and Chaos Gremlin. “I don’t drink coffee to wake up, I wake up to drink coffee.”