According to a recent study from the Sutter Health Center for Health Systems Research, pregnant Latinas are at a greater risk for contracting the COVID-19 virus than white non-Hispanic women.
The study tested 4,500 pregnant women who gave birth between October and December 2020 for antibodies and found Latinas were over twice as likely (2.4 times more) to be infected than white patients.
But what are the factors contributing to this disparity and how can we lower these numbers?
Pregnant Latinas and COVID
One of the many factors contributing to the infection rate of pregnant Latinas is living and working conditions. In a report by the Economic Policy Institute, data showed that Black and Latinx communities have faced some of the most damaging health and economic effects during the pandemic.
Many Latinx families are economically insecure, resulting in pressures to continue working in high-risk industries during the pandemic, little paid time off, and fewer options to work remotely from home. Additionally, Latinx workers were more likely to be employed in some of the hardest-hit industries such as hospitality, retail, transportation, and health care.
Living conditions are also a contributing factor. Dr. Alice Pressman, research director of the Sutter Health Institute for Advancing Health Equity, said in a press call that when it came to living arrangements, “the Hispanic population was much more likely to self-report living in a household with more than five other members…[and] were also much more likely to report having been exposed or thinking that they had potentially been exposed to someone with known COVID-19.”
Finally, one of the biggest contributing factors to the disproportionate rate of COVID-19 infection among pregnant Latinas is less accessible healthcare and vaccine misinformation about fertility and pregnancy.
Vaccine hesitancy and misinformation in the Hispanic community
According to a toolkit by the Ad Council and COVID Collaborative, the top concerns for Latinos regarding COVID-19 vaccines are: safety, cost, diversity in the clinical trials, and availability for undocumented people.
Many Latinx patients are hesitant to receive the vaccine due to misinformation, skepticism, and previous discrimination from healthcare professionals. Additionally, pregnant Latinas have refused or postponed the vaccine until after pregnancy because they worry the vaccine will have harmful effects on them and their babies.
However, a growing body of research contradicts these beliefs and widespread myths. Not getting the vaccine during pregnancy poses a much greater health risk to the mother and baby, since the mother’s body is already weakened from the pregnancy alone. Contracting COVID-19 while pregnant would create more potential for complications and risks, and pregnancy is already linked to an increased risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19.
Vaccination against COVID-19 during pregnancy, on the other hand, has not been linked to birth complications, including premature delivery and low birth weight newborns, according to the CDC.
Unfortunately, the myth that vaccines can harm reproductive health remains widespread, especially among Hispanics and communities of color.
A CDC report showed that vaccination was lowest among Hispanic (11.9%) and non-Hispanic Black women (6.0%) and women aged 18–24 years (5.5%) and highest among non-Hispanic Asian women (24.7%) and women aged 35–49 years (22.7%).
To combat the rate of infection among pregnant Latinas, dispelling misinformation about vaccines during pregnancy is crucial.
You might be interested: Meet Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi, the Latina scientist who co-created “The World’s COVID-19 Vaccine”
Moving forward, we need to support policies and programs that will promote health education, resources, and equitable access to healthcare for the Hispanic community. With more culturally relevant resources regarding vaccine safety during pregnancy, vaccine confidence can be improved among pregnant Latinas and in the community at large where low vaccination rates are still prevalent.
One organization that is working to achieve this goal is Salud America, a national Latino-focused organization that creates culturally relevant and research-based stories, videos, and tools to inspire people to start and support healthy changes to policies, systems, and environments where Latino children and families can equitably live, learn, work, and play.
The organization has several programs dedicated to dispelling myths about the COVID-19 vaccine and promoting vaccine confidence in the Hispanic community. One program is the
Salud America!’s Latino COVID-19 Vaccine “Change of Heart” Bilingual Storytelling Campaign. The campaign shares the stories of real Latinos who overcame misinformation, got the vaccine, reconnected with family, and are helping end the pandemic.
Another campaign promoting vaccine education is the #JuntosStopCovid campaign which features bilingual, culturally relevant fact sheets, infographics, and video role model stories to encourage Latinos to change their public health behaviors, including getting the vaccine when available.
We each can also work towards dispelling vaccine myths in our communities by sharing our own experiences, resources, and educational content so that we can reduce disparities such as this. Let’s all take action and do our part!