USA

Why vulnerable migrants say they'll reject the Covid-19 vaccine in Colombia

"You have to be brave to take the vaccine right now, how do you know what happens with the secondary effects? There's a lot of misinformation going on, we know nothing, and I trust nobody," he told CNN.

Valera himself developed Covid-19 symptoms last year and said he missed three days of work while recovering from it. He later tested positive for the virus in a rapid antigen test, but his fear of getting vaccinated is independent of his own encounter with the virus, he said.

His son Christian, 17, is similarly vaccine averse. "I don't want to have anything to do with it, the vaccine, the virus, nothing at all," said Christian, who works in construction.

Next door is a hair salon where Liliana Reyes, 28, works. Also a migrant from Maracaibo, Venezuela, Reyes equally does not want to take the vaccine -- "Me? You must be crazy, I'll never take it!"

The opinion of these vaccine-skeptical Venezuelan migrants might be a stark contrast with the current worldwide run on vaccines -- but such marginalized communities could be key to Colombia's national vaccine rollouts. Inoculation campaigns are effective only if the majority of the population embraces them, and any small community's refusal to get on board could undermine the broader effort.

Latin America has been one of the regions most affected by coronavirus across the world, and new variants are emerging which could accelerate the spread of the virus. But the region presents two significant obstacles to widespread vaccination campaigns: Challenging logistics required to reach many communities in rural and mountainous areas, and highly marginalized populations like ethnic minorities, migrants and informal workers who may struggle to access social services.
Colombia commenced vaccinations on February 17, and while the arrival of the vaccine was celebrated, the real work starts now to inoculate en masse. As a resurgence of the coronavirus spreads across the continent, just about 2% of Colombia's population has been fully vaccinated. Venezuelan migrants are as eligible as Colombian citizens for the vaccine due to their Temporary Protected Status, announced this February by President Ivan Duque.

Hugh Aprile, the country director for Colombia at international NGO Mercy Corps, which manages three field operations providing legal and medical assistance to Venezuelan migrants, told CNN in March that convincing migrants was proving a challenge -- and could become a defining challenge for Colombia's vaccination efforts.

"Many Venezuelans don't trust the vaccine. They worry that it will harm and maybe even kill them. So one of our priorities now is to educate Venezuelans about the safety of the vaccine alongside providing continued humanitarian assistance," Aprile told CNN.

While vaccine hesitancy among certain communities in the United States is well-documented, there are few surveys specifically addressing marginalized communities in Latin America, such as Venezuelan migrants.

According to government estimates, there are almost 2 million Venezuelan migrants in Colombia, a country of 50 million. Most Venezuelans arrived in recent years after fleeing the economic crisis in their home country, and are not fully integrated within Colombian society, which can make keeping track and getting in touch with them for programs like the vaccine rollout difficult. Many don't have ID cards or health insurance; others live in Colombia without the proper documentation or work informally.

Several Venezuelan migrants who spoke with CNN for this piece cited the precariousness of their existence as a factor in concern about the Covid-19 vaccine. "I have a son who's two years old. I'm worried for him: if I take the vaccine, and some side effect appears and I cannot work, who looks after him?" said Valera. His family has little in the way of savings to get through sick days.

Others fear the vaccines could provoke side effects that prevent them from working or might require further health assistance which they are not entitled to receive because they don't have proper documentation.

They are not the only marginalized people in Colombia skeptical of its vaccination campaign. After decades of guerrilla war, Colombia is home to a vast number of internally displaced people who also live in the margins of society and view the government of President Iván Duque Márquez with general wariness.

Some of Valera's Colombian neighbors in the working class neighborhood of Usme, for example, said they did not trust the government's pledge to inoculate in an equal way. "This is a very poor neighborhood and the government has forgotten about us: I stopped believing them a long time ago," said Lilian Escobar, a 50-year old Colombian woman who added that she'd refuse to take the vaccine if she had the opportunity.

Her husband Ricardo Rivaldo says he doubted the pandemic was real for months, but that spiking case numbers in Brazil have now convinced him of the urgent need for vaccination. While his wife pours coffee and criticizes Colombia's health bureaucracy, Rivaldo slams a cup on the kitchen counter and declares, "They are useless for sure, but if you gave me a jab today, I'd take it straightaway!"

People who cannot work from home, like many of the low-income residents of Usme, may ultimately be most in need of the vaccine, Dr. Maribel Arrieta, an epidemiologist and member of the directors' board at Bogota's College of Doctors told CNN.

"If there are populations that don't vaccinate because of fear or hesitancy, that's a big problem. More than anything, because these marginalized populations are those most at risk to catch the virus, and spread it," she said. Valera, for example, is in close contact with hundreds of people every day as he sells snacks on the street.

Colombia is entering the second phase of its vaccination campaign, which prioritizes health personnel and citizens older than 60. Colombian health minister Fernando Ruiz has told CNN the vaccination plan will include vulnerable and marginalized populations in the fourth phase of the campaign.

But at current vaccination rates Colombia is not expected to reach that phase for at least two more months.

"These are people with access to information barriers and that present serious and chronic illnesses in higher degree than the rest of the population," said Ruiz, pledging to reach them no matter where they are in the country.

"If we have to, we'll go by boat, on the back of a mule or hiking rural trails."

Football news:

Griezmann spoke with Hamilton and visited the Mercedes boxes at the Spanish Grand Prix
Barcelona feels that Neymar used it. He said that he wanted to return, but extended his contract with PSG (RAC1)
Aubameyang to the Arsenal fans: We wanted to give you something good. I am sorry that we could not
Atletico did not lose at the Camp Nou. Busquets' injury is the turning point of the match (and the championship race?)
Verratti injured his knee ligaments in PSG training. Participation in the Euro is still in question
Neymar's contract in one picture. Mbappe wants the same one
Manchester United would like to sign Bellingham in the summer, not Sancho. Borussia do not intend to sell Jude