At St. Theresa’s Catholic Church on the southwest side of Little Rock, Oscar Martinez grabbed his chance at an pop-up vaccination clinic in a gymnasium on Saturday afternoon, sponsored by the Arkansas University of Medical Sciences ( UAMS) and the Mexican Consulate. a direct attempt to reach the Latino population of the region.

“I’ve been visiting the area for a month, so I wanted to take the opportunity today,” Martinez told CNN.

State authorities are doing everything they can to get people vaccinated. Arkansas not only has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country – only about a third of eligible people are fully vaccinated – but faces a troubling increase in Covid-19 cases – fueled primarily by the emerging variant Delta virus.

“There’s no question our immunization levels are not where we want them to be,” Arkansas health secretary Dr. Jose Romero told CNN. “We have a third of our population fully immune. But we need to get much higher levels in order to get that under control.”

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The reasons why experts say people don’t get the vaccine in Arkansas are varied. They cite pregnant women who are concerned about the impact of the vaccine on them and their unborn children, or people who want to see additional FDA approval of vaccines beyond current emergency use authorizations. But there are also those who believe in vaccine conspiracy theories, experts said.

Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. is well aware of this skepticism. It was something he fought against himself.

“I am someone, as a black man, with burns to the heart,” Scott said. “When you think of the Tuskegee airmen, the HeLa cells and that disheartening story from the past. I’m also someone who had never had a flu shot.”

But after losing family members to Covid, Scott said he found it even more important to encourage people to get vaccinated.

“I took the time as a leader to do the research,” he said, “to come to understand, and be a leader and demonstrate to the residents of Little Rock that I wouldn’t ask them to do what. whether I was ‘I’m not ready to do this.’

Experts say their messages to minority populations face challenges, citing the state’s Latin American populations who often live in more rural areas that are hard to reach, fear they will run out of work, or face their own doubts about the vaccine.

UAMS physician Dr. Gloria Richard-Davis focuses her work on communicating with these groups. It’s about making the vaccine accessible within the community, she said.

“A lot of celebrities say to get vaccinated, the average person doesn’t listen to them,” she said. “So we are trying to understand who are the daily influences for our community and the community health workers are a part of it because they live and breathe.”

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In addition to community members who help share accurate information, the state government is trying to do its part. Gov. Asa Hutchinson is in the middle of a tour of Arkansas hosting city halls where he answers questions about the vaccine, and the state’s health department has released public service announcements featuring former vaccine skeptics talking about their shift in perspective.

Another is making sure people can take time off work to get vaccinated – a major concern among communities of color, said Richard-Davis.

“We are working with employers to try to make them allow this time for the vaccination or if someone has adverse events that they do not want to go to work the next day, that there be some flexibility that they can use. ‘there is some leeway,’ says Richard-Davis.

Regarding FDA approval of current vaccines beyond emergency use authorization, Dr. Robert Hopkins – a UAMS physician who also chairs the National Vaccine Advisory Committee – said that ‘he hoped that might happen’ soon enough. . “

“I know there has been regular communication between Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson, and the FDA,” he told CNN. “I think it would help at least a part of our population who hesitated to know that this vaccine is fully approved.”

Diffusion seems to be working. In Sainte-Thérèse, Minerva Mendoza brought her 13-year-old daughter, Mary Lara, to be vaccinated.

“My position on the vaccine is that we can’t just sit back and wait until we get sick and then regret not having been vaccinated,” she told CNN. “Right now, it’s about everyone getting involved and overcoming any fears about the vaccine so that we can get out of this pandemic.”

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