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CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8 | cbs8.com

'Promotoras' reaching out to the Latino community to encourage vaccinations

While Hispanics make up roughly one-third of San Diego county's population, they have comprised only 15 percent of vaccines administered county-wide so far.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — San Diego's Hispanic communities have been hit disproportionately hard by COVID-19, from the number of confirmed cases to the rate of hospitalizations, while the number of Latinos choosing to get vaccinated is low. 

To tackle this problem, specially-trained community health advocates known as promotoras are armed with information and are working to change minds.

Promotoras serve as specially-trained, bilingual community health advocates for thousands of local families, with whom they share a common language and culture.

One of their highest priorities now: working directly with the Latino community in San Diego to ensure as many members as possible get vaccinated. This is especially critical, at this stage of the vaccine rollout, for the elderly.

Even before coronavirus, promotoras have played a huge role in San Diego's Hispanic communities. During the pandemic, that role has become even more crucial.

"It is definitely my calling," said City Heights resident Miriam Rodriguez. She has volunteered as a "promotora," or community health worker, for the last 15 years, and now works as a coordinator for the program through the San Diego Latino Health Coalition.

"It doesn't even seem like a job," she added, It's like working with friends, family, [and] neighbors."

"We are here for you, they really need to know that," Rodriguez said. "We are here for you if you don't have someone in your family who help give you the information you need. We can help you out."

Navigating the Internet to make an appointment and arranging for transportation to the vaccination sites are two of the biggest needs among seniors.

Promotoras also work to model healthy behavior for them and the rest of the community, from wearing masks to social distancing.

"This is definitely important," Rodriguez added, "For example, I may want to share a carne asada with all of my neighbors, but this is not the right moment. So instead I'll just make a small recipe and send it over."

COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted San Diego's Hispanic community, which makes up one-third of the county's population.

However, Hispanics comprise nearly 56 percent of all the county's COVID-19 cases and more than 52 percent of coronavirus hospitalizations, but only 15 percent of all San Diegans who have been vaccinated so far. This demonstrates the need for this one-on-one outreach.

"The promotora work is very critical, Rodriguez said.  

The San Diego Latino Health Coalition is hosting a special virtual town hall on the COVID vaccine next week in both English and Spanish. For more information, click here.