The vaccine and reaching out to Latino communities

Courtesy photo ‘I got my shot. I’m Latino, and I’m fine.’ Facebook campaign after team members were vaccinated. Luis Murillo, Pantaleon Villagomez and Maria Villagomez of Los Promotores de la Valle de San Luis.

‘Hey, I got my shot. I’m Latino. And I’m fine.’

SAN LUIS VALLEY — When it comes to COVID-19 and dealing with the pandemic, Luis Murillo, principal of Skoglund Middle School in Center, is a well-known face in the Valley. As part of his role with Los Promotores de la Valle de San Luis, Murillo has been on the front lines from day one, helping communities navigate the crisis.

It’s that role with Promotores — working with his team, speaking with different people about the virus and going door to door to distribute information about precautions — that also put him at the front of another line, those “essential” individuals who were vaccinated right after health care providers.

Murillo describes it as an honor that Promotores was in the first wave to be vaccinated. But it also raised a few questions.

“I did not know many who were vaccinated,” he said. “You hear it and you read about it and, by then, doctors and nurses, of course, had been vaccinated. But in my circle of friends, other educators and even those in Promotores, I was one of the first who got it. And, yes, I’ll say it was a little bit scary because, back then, we were still learning about it and about the effects.”

That nervousness Murillo speaks of has caused some people to wait to be vaccinated, some of whom are still waiting. Yet, when asked why he went ahead and got the vaccine, he does not hesitate in his answer.

“I got the vaccine to protect my family. I got the vaccine to protect myself,” Murillo said. “And I got it to protect my community. Those were the main factors. And it was also the nature of my job, being a middle school principal and an educator and the work I do for Promotores.”

Murillo was given the Moderna vaccine.

“With that first shot I felt a little fatigued. My arm was a little sore — and I say this because I could — I rested for about 6 hours on Saturday,” he said.

When asked how he felt 28 days later when he got his second shot, Murillo laughed.

“I got that shot on a Tuesday,” Murillo said. “That day, I had a board meeting. And then Wednesday, I had a packed agenda. I say I didn’t give myself permission to feel bad but, honestly, I felt pretty good. My soreness was minimum. I did feel feverish, but I never actually registered a fever, and I was able to continue with my work life, as normal.”

But just as important as how Murillo felt physically was how he felt emotionally after he had gotten his second shot.

“I felt great because I felt less anxiety. Working at Center School, we’ve been hybrid for most of the time, so I felt less anxious, more focused on my work. Even though I continued with all the precautions, I was less distracted by social distancing, by making sure my mask was on right, by ‘am I wearing an N-95 when I need to, all those things,” he said, adding, “I felt human again.”

As part of his work with Promotores, Murillo has been especially aware of how the Latino communities have been responding to the vaccine. National figures suggest there is a disparity between Latinos getting the vaccine compared to other demographics, and, although Murillo cannot say with certainty the gap is as large in the San Luis Valley as it is other places, he has noticed some of a difference.

Although he is reluctant to generalize, he believes that part of that difference can be attributed to the nature of work many Latinos do in the valley.

“When I go into a [clinic or a hospital], I don’t see too many Latino doctors or nurses, and I think that has caused some of the disparities,” he said.

In other words, people might be more willing to get a vaccine if it was administered by someone who looked more like they do, a concern that Promotores has helped to both address and resolve when they have hosted vaccine events, two of which, alone, brought in more than 600 people, many of whom were Latino.

Other reasons for hesitation Murillo has heard were related to vaccines causing infertility, causing harm to an unborn baby if a woman is pregnant or how the vaccine will play out with other health concerns besides diabetes and heart disease.

After bringing in doctors to answer people’s questions and address those concerns, Murillo said people were no longer hesitant. Once their questions were answered, people were ready to “get the shot.”

“The Valley has done an excellent job of letting people know that the vaccines are free and employers have been very good about letting people get off work to go get a vaccine,” he said. “But sometimes just seeing a familiar face can make all the difference.”

For that reason, shortly after Murillo and other team members with Promotores got their vaccine, they launched a small campaign on Facebook with photos of themselves.

“It was our way of saying, ‘Hey, I got my shot. I’m Latino, and I’m fine,’” he said.

With that in mind, Los Promotores de la Valle de San Luis continues to work with the coalition of health care agencies and organizations to reach out to all residents, and they plan to keep on doing so for as long as it takes to get shots in the arms of all.