A Spanish-language campaign aims to get 5-11 year old Latino kids vaccinated Throughout the pandemic, La Abuelina has become part of a successful campaign to connect Latinos in Montgomery County with the vaccine.
From NPR station

WAMU 88.5

A Spanish-language campaign aims to get 5-11 year old Latino kids vaccinated

Montgomery County is rolling out a new series of public health ads in Spanish featuring appealing characters like 12-year-old Valentina. Courtesy of /Montgomery County Latino Health Initiative hide caption

toggle caption
Courtesy of /Montgomery County Latino Health Initiative

Latino parents of 5 to 11-year-old children in Montgomery County will be the target of the next series of Spanish-language videos featuring La Abuelina, part of a public health campaign launched last year by the county's Latino Health Initiative and Por Nuestra Salud y Bienestar, a community partner focused on reaching the Latino population.

Throughout the pandemic, La Abuelina has been a familiar face reminding Latinos in the county to get vaccinated.

"Don't forget to sign up, so you can get the vaccine when it's your turn," Abuelina, a Salvadoran grandmother character and her Afro-Latino husband, Don Carlos, say in Spanish in one cartoon from earlier this year.

Article continues below

A $19.9 million campaign — including an Emmy-winning video series — aimed at Montgomery County's Latino residents is credited with helping to push vaccine rates from among the lowest to the highest among demographic groups. High vaccination rates among Latinos are now being seen regionally after Latinos experienced some of the highest rates of COVID-19 infections and deaths over the past year and a half.

Earlier this year, disparities between minority groups and their white counterparts were acute. This past March, despite only making up about half of Maryland's population, white residents accounted for 60% of vaccine recipients. The state's Hispanic population received just 6% of doses, although they made up 11% of Maryland's overall population. Kaiser Health data shows that in both Virginia and D.C., Hispanic residents now have a higher vaccination rate than white residents. In Maryland overall, white residents still outpace Hispanic residents by about 1%, but in Montgomery County — the most vaccinated county in the D.C. area — Hispanics ages 12 and up outpace white residents by roughly 4%, according to county data.

The video series has been so successful it's attracting attention well beyond the county. Sonia Moras, manager of the county's Latino Health Initiative, told DCist/WAMU that the organization is getting calls from other states like California and Rhode Island to explain its methods.

But the pandemic isn't over yet, and until now, younger kids couldn't get the vaccine.

"We have to celebrate achievements," Moras said. "But of course we still have people we need to vaccinate."

To build upon the success they've already had, the county is now in the process of rolling out new videos and comic strips to encourage Latino parents to get their younger kids vaccinated. This week, the CDC cleared the vaccine for 5 to 11-year-olds. In the new videos, we'll hear Abuelina and her 12-year-old granddaughter, Valentine talk about the vaccine and why kids should get it.

One of Montgomery County's videos featuring the character Valentina and her grandmother, Abuelina.

Credit: Montgomery County Latino Health Initiative YouTube

One of Montgomery County's videos featuring the character Valentina and her grandmother, Abuelina. Credit: Montgomery County Latino Health Initiative

"Valentina has friends that will be able to get vaccinated as of now," according to Mynellies Negron, marketing director of Communication Shop, a public relations company that designed the character. "As a child, Valentina is interested in getting to know how this vaccine is going to make an impact on some of her friends."

Negron added that Abuelina will be able to explain to Valentina that this vaccine is the "best protection we have available right now to reduce the risk of infection."

How Montgomery County found success with La Abuelina

For Montgomery County, outreach to Latino communities and getting them vaccinated was possible, Moras said, because the Latino Health Initiative had been doing work like this in the community for more than 20 years.

"The trust was there," Moras said. "We had a network of organizations that know how to serve the community well, who our community trusts because they've been the gatekeepers, if you will, of the community, the advocates not just serving the community, but advocating."

The concept for Abuelina, Moras said, came from a set of focus groups the initiative hosted with community members.

"There was the lady in there who was an older lady like an abuela [grandmother]. And when she talked everybody was quiet and listening to her," Moras said. "And we thought, la abuela is someone that we Latinos pay attention to, it's an authority figure."

Indeed, Abuelina and her family of Spanish-speaking cartoon characters resonated with Latino residents, garnering more than a million views on Spanish-language TV channels and radio stations like Univisión DC, Telemundo, and El Zol.

But, Moras said it wasn't just the Abuelina videos that convinced people to get vaccinated.

"It's not one thing, not one magic bullet ... It's a comprehensive and integrated approach," Moras explained.

Montgomery County's outreach efforts also address other obstacles. Those include programs to bring vaccines to people's houses to accommodate residents' non-traditional work hours and providing access to other support services like food, shelter, and cash assistance.

Success in D.C. and Virginia

Montgomery County might have the most impressive vaccine rates among Latinos, but it isn't the only success story in the region. Chris Charles, the health promotion program manager at D.C.'s Latin American Youth Center (LAYC), told DCist/WAMU that, at the beginning of the pandemic, many families said they didn't have information about the vaccines they needed. Those families said they were learning about vaccines on social media, which Charles says led to a lot of misinformation.

LAYC held information sessions at schools and other community health groups to talk about the vaccine in Spanish. For several weeks, D.C.'s vaccine appointment portal wasn't even available in Spanish. Teens at the youth center also participated in the mayor's community ambassadors program, where people went door to door to spread vaccine information in communities with low uptake.

"There were young people ready and willing to go door to door, you know, risk having a door slammed in their face, risk being chased by dogs, being harassed, and just really trying to get people into vaccination sites around the city," Charles told DCist/WAMU.

In the end, community ambassadors knocked on nearly 260,000 doors. Through the program, he said, 5,000 of those people got the shot.

In Arlington, Nancy White, executive director of Arlington Free Clinic, which serves uninsured residents in the county and an overwhelmingly immigrant population, said apart from language or technology barriers and misinformation, they also faced time constraints. Some residents work irregular hours or can't find childcare or transportation to vaccine clinics.

"We were able to provide vaccine clinics on Saturdays and in the evenings when they weren't working and made convenient for them, but we also had a team of of nurses and other volunteers to call them and talk to them about the importance of vaccines to answer their questions, to encourage them and to sort of dispel some of the myths that were going on," White told DCist/WAMU.

White estimates that around 70% of the clinic's patient population has been vaccinated, and since some were likely vaccinated outside of the clinic, it's likely that number is even higher.

This story is from DCist.com, the local news site of WAMU.

Questions or comments about the story?

WAMU 88.5 values your feedback.

From NPR station

WAMU 88.5