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Fact vs. fiction: Latino/Hispanic town hall aims to shred COVID vaccine misinformation

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Latino/Hispanic leaders will convene a special COVID-19 town hall forum at 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 28, sponsored by Jackson State University and the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) to tout the benefits of vaccination to vulnerable immigrants and citizens.

Dr. Nelson Atehortua, assistant professor in JSU’s Behavioral and Environmental Health in the College of Health Sciences, is a native of Colombia, South America. He’s combining his medical degree and public health experience to try to save lives.

Dr. Nelson Atehortua is an assistant professor in JSU’s Behavioral and Environmental Health in the College of Health Sciences. He’s also a native of Colombia, South America, and has joined forces with the Mississippi State Department of Health to address questions about the deadly COVID-19 virus.

Dr. Nelson Atehortua is an assistant professor in Behavioral and Environmental Health in JSU’s College of Health Sciences. He’s also a native of Colombia, South America, and has joined forces with the Mississippi State Department of Health to address questions about the deadly COVID-19 virus.

Atehortua said the state’s fast-growing Latino/Hispanic population is being disproportionately affected by the deadly virus much like the African American community.

So, he and other leaders who represent Spanish-speaking territories “aim to convey accurate information in laypeople language,” Atehortua said.

‘A sense of cultural identity’

In addition, he said the town hall can create a “sense of cultural identity and help build trust in the community.” He’s still worried, however, because “there is a good portion of people with hesitancy about the vaccine, and that’s mainly due to misinformation about its safety. We want to provide the proper information to the community.”

There are two ways to access the forum in English or Spanish:

  1. Via Zoom here  in English (Meeting ID: 886 8179 1079; Password: 754434)
  2. Via Facebook Live at La Noticia de MS

Atehortua credits MSDH and state health director Dr. Thomas Dobbs, along with other leaders, for teaming with JSU to separate “fact from fiction.” Atehortua was invited by MSDH to participate based on his years of community engagement, outreach and research.

Meanwhile, the town hall will be moderated by Selma Alford, who leads the MSDH COVID-19 Hispanic Task Force Team.

Alford, Dobbs and Atehortua will be joined by Dr. Leandro A. Mena, chair and professor of Population Health Science at the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC); and Dr. Adolfo Correa, director of the Jackson Heart Study and professor of medicine and Population Health Science at UMMC.

Atehortua cautions that the Latino/Hispanic community faces perilous circumstances related to being minorities. Among these issues include limited jobs and/or career opportunities.

“There is a good portion of people with hesitancy about the vaccine, and that’s mainly due to misinformation about its safety. We want to provide the proper information to the community.” — Dr. Nelson Atehortua, JSU assistant professor in College of Health Sciences“Hispanics primarily work in manufacturing plants where social distancing is not that easy. Also, conditions in which Hispanics and Latinos live can be a risk factor for contagion.”

He said other factors include not having access to health insurance, which may mean seeing a doctor only after a disease has progressed significantly, and likely irreversibly.

Because of the lethal nature of the COVID-19 virus, Atehortua said, “The fundamental idea is to demystify and blunt misinformation that could prevent members of the Hispanic community from getting immunized.”

So, as COVID-19 cases continue spiking, this third such Latino/Hispanic town hall panel by JSU and MDSH is expected to address a litany of questions:

  • Can you get COVID-19 more than once?
  • Has the vaccine been tried in the Hispanic community?
  • How do people taking the vaccine fare in comparison to those who have overcome (survived) COVID-19?
  • Do people need to get vaccinated if they have already contracted COVID-19 in the past?
  • What are the side effects of the vaccine?
  • How effective are the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in combatting new strains of COVID-19?
  • How can we protect families against the new strain?

For all the good that vaccines promise, Atehortua warns, “We still need to help others by maintaining preventive measures until we have herd immunity.”