COVID-19 vaccine outreach efforts for the Spanish-speaking community in the Mid-Hudson: A conversation with Dr. Marta Sanchez
In December 2020, Dr. Marta Sanchez was named, along with Dr. Walter Woodley, to the Ulster County COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Coalition. The coalition, set up by the Ulster County government, consists of health, religious and community leaders who are working to educate the public about the COVID-19 vaccine and to ensure equity in vaccine access for all community members in Ulster County.
Since the creation of the coalition, Dr. Sanchez, who practices family medicine at the Kingston Family Health Center and provides care in Spanish as well as English, has identified several barriers to COVID-19 vaccine access for her Spanish-speaking patients. Many patients told her they had difficulty accessing appointments online when they only have a phone that runs on prepaid minutes, or they cannot access the internet consistently. Some were concerned about providing identifying information to government authorities. When vaccine eligibility was more restricted, some patients working in eligible job categories were not able to get a verification letter from their employer. In addition, not all locations offering the vaccine publish information in Spanish.
“I’ve been trying to outreach my own patients who I know speak only Spanish,” said Dr. Sanchez. “I usually set reminders for myself that a particular patient is interested and then when we have vaccines available, I call them and let them know, so I can make an appointment for them on my end.”
She once spent four hours after seeing her patients for the day speaking to four different people on the phone, listening to their concerns and answering questions. “It ended up being like a visit with each patient,” she said, “People understandably have a lot of questions – this is all new. I tell everyone that right now, the risk of not taking the vaccine is getting COVID-19 and potentially dying.”
One priority for the coalition is organizing events where community members can work with volunteers to make appointments for vaccines. Faith-based leaders have been setting up pop-up events through their churches and food pantries, which offer assistance with setting up vaccine appointments, as well as opportunities to speak with staff members who can answer questions about the vaccine.
Dr. Sanchez also worked with Dr. Clarissa Ortiz, a family medicine resident, and Susanne Callahan, the Institute’s vice president for planning and community engagement, to speak at a Spanish-language Town Hall event on Facebook Live moderated by Mariel Fiori, the host of La Voz and a fellow member of the coalition. In the Town Hall, the speakers discussed some common questions they have been getting from patients and how to make appointments.
For anyone interested in learning more about COVID-19 vaccine events in Ulster County, or who faces barriers to access due to language and technology, Dr. Sanchez recommends reaching out to church leaders or community organizations. Patients at the Institute for Family Health can also visit institute.org/vacunacovid19 or use MyChart/MiRecord to schedule an appointment for vaccine.