CENTRAL VALLEY, Calif. (KSEE) – A statewide collaborative of 11 academic institutions, including UC Merced, found that racism and other social inequities are the main reasons for vaccine inequities among underserved communities in California.

The report was by the Share, Trust, Organize, Partner COVID-19 California Alliance, also known as STOP COVID-19 CA, and looked at the factors that are keeping marginalized communities from getting the vaccine.

“It really brought to light a lot of the inequities, especially in communities of color,” said Claudia Corchado, the program manager for Cultiva La Salud in Merced County.

UC Merced Public Health Professor Nancy Burke was the principal investigator at the UC Merced site and said they worked in collaboration with Cultiva La Salud and the Merced County Department of Public Health.

“In Merced, we conducted a series of focus groups with community members, largely farmworkers and families of farmworkers,” Burke said.

Central Valley agricultural and vulnerable communities were some of the hardest hit by COVID-19.

Burke said they learned about their experiences with testing sites, their concerns with COVID-19, and their thoughts about the vaccine.

From the statewide studies, they found that racism and social inequities, such as the fear of deportation, were the primary factors for keeping marginalized communities from getting their vaccine.

“A lot of the concerns about getting vaccinated for our underserved populations are based in historical abuses that haven’t been addressed as well as their own personal experiences of discrimination and isolation,” Burke said.

She added that the initial vaccine rollout in California was a form of structural racism.

During the first allocations to counties when the state was prioritizing healthcare workers, Merced County was receiving some of the lowest amounts.

“That’s because we’re a healthcare provider shortage area. So the first rollout prioritized healthcare providers which is incredibly important, but at the same time, Merced County is home to a large proportion of frontline essential workers in agriculture and food production,” Burke said.

“There’s those kinds of decisions that have an impact on the health and wellbeing of our population. Not to mention that much of the initial rollout was really happening in English,” she added.

The report also found that in addition to racism and social inequities, the lack of information, misinformation, and disinformation reinforced hesitancy. The lack of diverse languages when it came to vaccine information, inconsistencies between local, state, and federal guidelines, and being unsure on who to trust all played factors in that, according to the report.

Burke said they were able to speak with the California Department of Public Health about their report, where they communicated to them that it was less about hesitancy and more about access.

“When it came right down to it, most of the people that we were speaking to said ‘yeah I would do it,’ but being able to do it was the question.”

Transportation, language and technology are all barriers, she said.

The report concluded that in order to increase access, community leaders in the plan for vaccine rollout need to be included, and eliminating barriers such as transportation is needed.

Some vaccination sites in the Central Valley along with community-based organizations have been doing or have begun to do this.

“We have farmworker families that go to work at 5 o’clock in the morning and they don’t get home til 6, 7 o’clock at night. So adjusting hours to accommodate farmworkers,” Corchado said.

Burke and Corchado said they want action to come about as a result of this report both short-term and long-term.

“In the long term, in the governor’s budget, we need to prioritize investment in public health. If nothing else, the pandemic has shown us that the disinvestment in public health has had dire, dire complications and impacts. Reinvesting in our public health workforce is an essential next step,” Burke said.

Corchado said she wants to see more funding go to community organizations that are working on the ground.

“We’re hoping that they present it to their local assemblyman, assemblywoman, their senators, folks that are representatives in their community in the Central Valley, County Board of Supervisors and really make it a call to action.”