By Alma Blancarte Mora
CHICAGO — It is important to ask the uncomfortable questions.
As a Community Health Registered Nurse in Chicago at Rush University Medical Center, I work in a nurse-led COVID-19 task force in partnership with Chicago Department of Public Health that goes to underserved settings to prevent or stop the spread of COVID-19.
We get to save lives. Still, it is at times heartbreaking work. The most recent outbreak my team encountered was at a homeless shelter with a 39% positivity rate.
Many refer to the zip codes 60623, 60632, 60629, and 60608 as “hot-spots” with predominantly Latinx residents, and consistently the highest positivity rate throughout Chicago and Illinois. Some can choose to stay away. For those who live, work, or have family that live in these zip codes, that is not possible.
I was born in La Villita, a neighborhood that is a part of the 60623 zip code. I live here now. The zip code 60632 is where my family lives. I went to high school in 60608. I recently received my first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, as my team was among the first Rush healthcare workers to receive it.
Independently, I surveyed 103 residents of these four hardest hit zip codes of Chicago with 17 questions about the “light at the end of the tunnel” that many frontline healthcare workers are calling the COVID-19 vaccine. While these results are specific to these areas, the learnings from the results may apply to major urban areas across the country.
These 103 residents who reported living in zip codes 60623, 60632, 60608, 60629 completed a survey that I created using Google Forms shared on Instagram on December 14 and closed Friday, December 18. More than 90% self-identified Latinx/Mexican/Chicano, 7.8% identified as White, and 3.9% identified as Asian.
The results show almost universal distrust of the government’s goal to protect them or their community, wariness about receiving the vaccine and an urgent need for more information.
The Latinx community in Chicago accounts for 35.6% of all confirmed COVID-19 cases and 34% of COVID-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic. Both of my parents, who are in their 60s, have had COVID-19 at different times throughout the year and thankfully, recovered.
Across the country, the Latinx community is disproportionately affected by COVID-19 throughout the United States. Hispanic or Latinx persons are 4.1 times more likely to become hospitalized from COVID-19 and 2.8 times more likely to die than a White, non-Hispanic person.
In this recent independent survey, most, or 64.1% were between the ages of 24-34 years old; 18.4% were between 18-24 years of age, 6.8% between the ages of 35-44 years of age; 3.9% between the ages of 45-54 years old, 3.9% under 18 years of age, and 2.9% between the ages of 55-64 years old.
Almost all, or 87.4%, had received some college level education, 8.7% received high school or high school equivalent education, 1.9% received vocational or trade school certification, and 1.9% identified as receiving 8th grade level education or less. Of the respondents, 82.5% identified with as female. 15.5% identified with as male. 1% preferred not to say and the last 1% identified as gender-variant/non-conforming.
Some of the survey results include answers to the question if as of today, do they feel comfortable receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, only 14.6% of residents said they strongly agreed while 36.9% agreed. Another 22.3% felt neutral about the statement. 17.5% disagreed and 8.7% strongly disagreed.
Asked if they feel like they are missing important information about the COVID-19 vaccine, 24.3% of residents said they strongly agreed, while 40.8% agreed; 18.4% felt neutral about the statement. Another 15.5% disagreed and only 1% strongly disagreed.
Surveyed if they want to know more about the COVID-19 vaccine before making a decision, 51.5% strongly agreed, 28.2% indicated they agreed; 13.6% felt neutral, 6.8% disagreed and 0% strongly disagreed.
Would they accept a vaccine if it were recommended by their employer and it was proved safe and effective by the government? Of the respondents, 28.2% strongly agreed, 34% agreed. 23.3% felt neutral about the statement. 8.7% disagreed and 5.8% strongly disagreed.
Only 1% of those surveyed said they strongly agreed the government protects them and their community, while 10.7% agreed. 34% felt neutral about the statement. 33% disagreed and 21.4% strongly disagreed.
On receiving COVID information from community members instead of government officials, 24.3% strongly agreed, while 27.2% agreed; 37.9% felt neutral about the statement; 6.8%, disagreed and 3.9% strongly disagreed.
Most said they would prefer COVID-19 & COVID-19 vaccine information coming from healthcare professionals instead of government officials, as 62.7% strongly agreed and 28.4% agreed, 5.9% felt neutral about the statement, 2% disagreed and 1% strongly disagreed.
Almost three-quarters of the respondents said if they get further information, they will receive the COVID-19 vaccine, as 71.3% answered “yes,” 3% answered “no,” and 25.7% answered “not sure.”
Almost all, or 93.1% of respondents are concerned about “side effects” while 84.3% selected “the effectiveness,” 62.7% selected “information on how it is made,” 60.8% selected “information about the companies that make the various COVID-19 vaccines,” 56.9% selected “whether it will be available to everyone,” 49% selected “when it will be available to me,” 48% selected “cost,” and 47.1% selected “who else is receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.”
Respondents expressed confusion about what it means to receive the COVID-19 vaccine; they want to know if they still need to follow safety precautions and if so, why? Still, 97.1 % said they know how to get COVID tested, and only 2/9 percent said they did not know how.
Unfortunately, this survey shows that for many, the government has a lot of work to do to gain the trust from the public. However, this survey data indicates that if people not just in Chicago but across the country receive the information they need and deserve, get their questions answered in a manner that is understandable and free of medical and political jargon, many are willing to accept the COVID-19 vaccine.
It is impossible to escape what COVID-19 has done to the most vulnerable communities that are disproportionately underserved. As the vaccine rollouts continue, there is hope for the opportunity to build trust working with healthcare professionals, scientists, and government officials for a healthier future.
Alma Blancarte Mora is a Community Health Registered Nurse at Rush University Medical Center and a Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd Project.