As the delta variant pushes Mississippi’s healthcare system to the brink and sends coronavirus cases skyrocketing, several advocacy organizations are hosting free COVID-19 vaccination clinics and providing accessible information about the pandemic in immigrant communities across the state.
The Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance (MIRA), the Jackson Free Clinic and the Immigrant Alliance for Justice and Equity (IAJE) have been working since April to administer COVID-19 shots and combat misinformation about the vaccine and the pandemic in Spanish-speaking and immigrant communities in Mississippi.
Across the state, immigrants have settled in rural and small-town communities, centered around agricultural labor and poultry plants in Mississippi, where mostly Latin American immigrants work. In places like Scott County, nearly 12% of the population is Hispanic. This is where one of the state’s largest poultry plants is located — and where one of the nation’s largest single-day ICE raids occurred in 2019.
Fear of ICE and the government’s immigration policies, compounded with fear of the coronavirus pandemic, has increased the need for advocacy organizations like MIRA and IAJE to go directly into Hispanic and immigrant communities to provide access to vaccines, healthcare and reliable information about the pandemic, Lorena Quiroz-Lewis, IAJE founder and director, said.
“Fear, I think, is a part of life of the undocumented person, and then we had the hateful rhetoric of the last eight years,” Quiroz-Lewis told Mississippi Today. “(Poultry plant) working conditions are what lead to (COVID-19) breakouts…The conditions that we’re working in make us more prone to catch COVID-19, so this is why we definitely need to be vaccinated.”
Since April, the Jackson Free Clinic, a volunteer-based clinic that provides free healthcare to uninsured Mississippians, has collaborated with immigrant advocacy organizations to provide over 1,100 COVID-19 vaccine doses, with 955 doses being administered to Hispanic Mississippians, Michael Hohl, Jackson Free Clinic outreach officer, told Mississippi Today.
Leer en español: COVID-19 en Misisipi guía de vacunas
Hohl said by traveling to immigrant communities across the state, the Jackson Free Clinic is helping reduce barriers of access, like transportation to clinics or having to take off work to travel or be vaccinated. He also said collaborating with IAJE and MIRA, known and trusted organizations within Hispanic and immigrant communities in Mississippi, are vital to the success of the vaccination drives.
“We see the value in partnering with people’s trusted local community organizations,” Hohl said. “If you can go to someone's place where they feel comfortable, somewhere where they don't feel intimidated at all, it breaks down the first barrier, and allows us to address some more personal and private concerns...It gives people, and the physicians, individual time with the patient that they vaccinated, so they're able to ask their questions.”
MIRA community organizer Luis Espinoza also said other barriers, like language and the price of healthcare, can deter immigrants from seeking medical care and COVID-19 vaccinations. Since their first vaccination drive in Richland in April when less than 20 people came to be vaccinated, trust has grown in the Hispanic community. Now, more and more immigrants and Hispanic people are being vaccinated and seeking out information about the coronavirus.
“It’s been difficult to convince people, convince families to get the vaccine, but over time, they started talking to each other and say ‘no, it’s OK to take the vaccine,’” Espinoza said.
Since the beginning, Quiroz-Lewis at IAJE has been focusing on not just vaccinations but also providing immigrant communities with COVID-19 education. IAJE’s promotoras de salud, or community health workers, is a group of immigrant women in rural Mississippi towns who provide free resources, like videos on how to care for yourself if you have COVID-19 and care packages with over-the-counter medications, vitamins and food. Quiroz-Lewis said this helps “the community educate the community.”
“We need to be concentrating on community members, the gente, the people, and teaching them because they’re the ones who sit in these quinceañeras, who sit in these public spaces, who sit in these churches,” she told Mississippi Today. “That, to me, is valuable and can help combat these myths that are circulating widely.”
Additional free vaccination drives are upcoming Aug. 21 in Forest from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. and Aug. 28 in Laurel from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.