Pastor, doctor team up to boost CSRA Hispanic vaccination rates

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AUGUSTA, Ga.. (WJBF) — Pastor Angel Maestre takes to the airwaves for his radio show, 97 Oasis, each week, speaking about faith to his Spanish-speaking audience. When COVID-19 vaccines rolled out, he began including teachings about health and science.

“It was my duty as a leader,” Maestre says.

Vaccination rates among the Hispanic population were extremely low at the time. In Richmond County, less than 10 percent of this community was vaccinated. Maestre partnered with Dr. Jose Vasquez, an infectious diseases physician at Augusta University Health. Vasquez began appearing on Maestre’s radio show. He also spoke and answered questions at Maestre’s church, Centro Cristiano Oasis de Bendicion.

“The Hispanic community has been one of the toughest communities to get vaccinated,” Vasquez says. “They’re not anti-vaxxers,” Vasquez explains. “But, most of the education put out there is in English. A lot of it is not in Spanish. So, they didn’t understand.”

According to Vasquez, the top three concerns among the Hispanic community were that the COVID-19 vaccine contained fetal tissue, caused infertility and could result in undocumented immigrants encountering problems with immigration authorities.

“They thought if we took their name and number, that ICE or immigration would come and take them, which is not true.”

Vasquez eased concerns, and vaccination rates increased quickly.

“I’m proud to say because of our outreach programs with some of our partners, specifically going through the churches, that it has actually increased to 30 to 35 percent.”

At Maestre’s church, vaccination rates are even higher. More than 80 percent are vaccinated. They have not had any virus-related outbreaks or deaths since the pandemic began.

“We have the responsibility to give that information and knowledge,” Maestre says.

As Maestre and his community celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, he is hopeful for the future.

“Here in Augusta, people are learning how to get to know the Latino community. If we celebrate our heritage, language, culture and food, I think we can share a little more and let them know we’re here to stay. I know they’re going to fall in love with us.”

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