HIALEAH, Fla. – Rigoberto Montesinos, a veteran of the Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba, was so worried about side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine that he initially wasn't going to get it, relenting only when two friends died from the disease.
But when he finally decided to get the shot, the 82-year-old couldn't find doses where he lives in Hialeah, a Miami suburb that's about 95% Latino. He got an appointment in nearby Miami Beach, but it was canceled. After struggling for weeks, Montesinos got his first dose last week.
"At my age, and with the virus spiking, I can’t be putting myself at risk,” said Montesinos, a Cuban exile who helped try to overthrow Fidel Castro in 1961.
From elderly Cuban Americans in Florida to farmworkers in California, Latinos face daunting barriers to getting COVID-19 vaccines, creating risks for public health as the coronavirus mutates and spreads.
America’s more than 60 million Latinos — like other people of color — have been disproportionately affected by the virus, and many are struggling with issues like a lack of knowledge about the shots, state vaccine websites that don’t have Spanish instructions, ways to find appointments in their communities and fears they could be targeted for immigration enforcement.
It comes as states, cities and counties are grappling with how to ensure people of color and other underserved communities are getting the vaccine, with some targeting vulnerable ZIP codes and working with community groups to sign people up. In Arizona, where language is a barrier for some Latinos and English is the only option on the state website for vaccine appointments, a university researcher is working on an online Spanish language campaign to address vaccine misconceptions.
Latinos, like other groups, also are frustrated by insufficient vaccine supplies.
Montesinos' 70-year-old nephew, Luis Morejon, was still trying to get inoculated in the Miami area last week. He's a cancer patient, and he and his wife also have diabetes.