As Marissa Zendejas waited for her first COVID-19 vaccination at the headquarters of the California Agricultural Workers Fund, the 27-year-old was telling tales. she heard from people she knows and the Internet on why she shouldn’t.
“Like, your life is shortened if you are vaccinated,” Zendejas said. “You only have this amount of life time left. Or you will be sterilized and you will not have any more children. ”
She laughed shyly and shook her head. “A lot of things are circulating and people get scared.”
Nearby, Michael Rodriguez, 35, said he saw on TikTok that the pandemic was a government-created conspiracy. He contracted COVID-19 in February but said his symptoms were mild.
Rodriguez needed permission to watch Mexican regional music star Karin Leon perform in Bakersfield. His wife had been vaccinated a few months ago but needed a negative test as proof of entry.
“I’m afraid of being vaccinated because maybe something could happen to me,” he said. “There is a video of people who got vaccinated and got sick.”
These two came to the California Farm Workers Fund, but neither of them accepted shot COVID-19.
Zendejas was planning An appointment for her father, and she was about to sign up too – until the same wave of insecurity she felt throughout 2021 swept over her and backed down.
Such is the power of myth when it comes to receiving a potentially life-saving injection.
Over the past year and a half, COVID-19 has hit the San Joaquin Valley like several regions in California. Kern County, which includes Delano, has one of the lowest vaccination rates in California. While about 64% of Californians of all ages are fully vaccinated, only about 48% of Kern County’s residents are fully vaccinated. Overall, there is little demand for booster vaccines, alarming health officials that a winter surge is imminent.
The problem is not a lack of prescriptions or vaccinations. Public and private institutions have partnered with non-profit organizations to provide testing, vaccinations, and fact-based information about the pandemic, from the most devastated urban areas to the most idyllic agricultural fields.
Visiting two separate testing and vaccination clinics run by the California Agricultural Workers’ Foundation and the Delano Union School District revealed the real culprit: misinformation.
“One person told me, ‘If healthcare workers are willing to lose their jobs to avoid getting the vaccine, what does that say about the people who get it? “Said Arnaldo Gonzalez, an outreach specialist in California. The Agricultural Workers Fund, which has compiled anecdotal evidence on youth and vaccinations in Kern and Tulare counties over the past few months, with plans to expand operations across the state.
According to the executive director of the foundation, Hernan Hernandez, it all boils down to “fear of the unknown.” But he cites Facebook-fueled misinformation as one of the main culprits in the vast territory that is already lacking resources.
“You hear something, you see something new every week,” he said. “It’s just reality. It didn’t stop. “
For decades, the San Joaquin Valley has suffered from inequalities in health, exacerbated by poverty and poverty. So when the pandemic first broke out in 2020, health officials braced for the worst – and yet they were surprised at how serious it has become and remains.
“From the beginning, we really felt like this was going to be a hot spot,” said Hernandez, who has led the fund since 2016. “We have vaccinated tens of thousands of farm workers here, but in the end, this is really what the government can do for the future of this valley.”
To help curb misinformation, the California Farm Workers Foundation developed a model in which they hired farm workers and combined them with the children of farm workers who had recently graduated from college. The two take to fields, jobs and neighborhoods to debunk myths through Q&A, first-person vaccination experiences and flyers.
Hugo Morales, executive director and co-founder of Radio Bilingüe, the national Latin American public radio network that broadcasts in Spanish, English and Mixteco, said: that the distrust of many Hispanics stems from historical suspicion about the health care system in Mexico, which is not always serve their interests. Morales said there are also people in Mexico who sell fake drugs on the street.
“Here it is translated to Facebook, where people post ineffective content or messages that say people died after being vaccinated,” he said. “It’s not true, but there is a fast somewhere.”
Many San Joaquin Valley residents who were tested at the nonprofit’s headquarters or visited a pop-up vaccination clinic in the Delano Union School District this month agreed. Some recounted myths they heard from colleagues while working in the field, or from family members.
Those who said they weren’t ashamed to get vaccinated had dealt with the virus first-hand or forced family members to die from the virus.
Enrique Cortez, 53, leaned against the railing in front of the Delano Union School District, accompanied by his younger brother and son-in-law. All three of them stood quietly wearing masks on a recent weekday as more and more people came to vaccinate their children.
While everyone present was wearing masks, Cortez couldn’t help but wonder if those in the queue were carrying the virus. Men, women, children.
Cortez contracted COVID-19 in February. He said he was in the hospital for several days, but depression and anxiety about the virus weakened his spirits the most. As a farm inspector, he let gossip about vaccines get on his nerves.
“Many of us have negative thinking,” he said in Spanish. “We are afraid, but we have to admit that this is happening and we need to protect ourselves.”
Cortez’s experience as a survivor of the virus strengthened his belief that vaccinations could protect him and others. On that day, he accompanied his younger brother for a booster because, according to him, he was too nervous to do it on his own.
His youngest son is vaccinated, but his adult daughter resists his pleas. According to him, he does not have the same influence on her, because she lives on her own.
“If I could take 10-15 people with me, I would,” he said. “I will bring as many people as I can. And I always ask: “Do you understand?” This is how I feel safe. “
A handful of people who came to the Delano School District for the first sets of shots did so on a whim. The night before, Diego Perez decided to join his two little girls, who are now eligible for the vaccine, when he saw a school flyer about the event.
He casually told his girlfriend that he would take them and get them too. “My girlfriend was happy for me – she was more excited than me,” he said.
His two girls watched as their father, a 30-year-old tractor driver in a black cap, chose his left hand to take a picture.
Perez was skeptical, although the mother of his children received the vaccine earlier this year. He said he was conquered “Crazy things” he heard about a vaccine with a human tracking chip.
“I thought, ‘I’ll wait and see,” he said, sitting down on the street to wait his 15 minutes. “I wasn’t sure. But in the end, you do what you have to do. I am betrayed. “
When the vaccinations were given, Maria S. Garcia told herself that she would give herself time to think. Then she realized that she needed it because she wanted to travel. to the Mexican state of San Luis Potosi, where she was born.
“The thing is, we hear so many things,” Garcia said.
The grape picker said most of her colleagues in the fields have been vaccinated. They regularly asked her when she would buy hers. Her “soon, soon” turned into “later, later.”
After the injection, Garcia joined the others outside. Her cell phone rang and she immediately told someone that she had just been vaccinated. The man on the other end gasped loudly, and Garcia chuckled.
She thought about postponing her flu shot. But the mere thought of being felled and unemployed due to this illness made her think again about procrastination.
“I think,” Garcia sighed, “I’ll get this too.”
Times staff writer Rong-Gong Lin II contributed to this report.