Vaccine Misinformation Plaguing North Texas' Undocumented Communities

Many undocumented immigrants don't realize they can receive a COVID-19 vaccine for free.
Many undocumented immigrants don't realize they can receive a COVID-19 vaccine for free. Photo by CDC / Courtesy of Unsplash
North Texas’ vaccine rollout has been mired in confusion from the get-go. It's been a logistical nightmare, and some residents remain uncertain as to when or where they can get vaccinated.

But the undocumented community is especially perplexed thanks to an influx of COVID-19 misinformation. Many immigrants are unaware they can receive a vaccine for free even if they don't have health insurance. Others don’t realize that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can’t make arrests at vaccine distribution locations.

Garland City Council member Deborah Morris is working to clear things up.

“This virus has wreaked havoc in a lot of our multigenerational families, many of them Hispanic,” Morris told the Observer. “The hit rate and the death rate has been higher with a lot of those populations, and they’re scared. And that’s proper.”

A large percentage of immigrants are impoverished and uninsured, and fear of deportation may leave them skeptical of authorities. Nearly a third of Texas’ undocumented immigrants live in poverty and roughly two-thirds don’t have health insurance, according to the scientific journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases.

Getting vaccine guidance to undocumented constituents has been challenging, Morris said; many immigrants live without internet access and learn the latest news through personal interactions.

So, Morris is spearheading an effort to distribute informative flyers printed in English, Spanish and Vietnamese.

Dallas County is also working to deliver a pro-vaccine message to immigrants, said County Judge Clay Jenkins. Local officials have teamed with the consul general of Mexico to encourage Latinos to sign up. Plus, they’ve asked faith leaders and city council members to host registration events and post signs in local hubs such as barbershops and gyms.

“We want them to get registered,” Jenkins said of undocumented immigrants. “It helps the community if everyone who is eligible for a shot gets a shot.”

"Everybody’s welcome.” – Garland City Council member Deborah Morris

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Dallas County still has a long way to go to ensure equitable vaccine distribution, said Domingo Garcia, national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens. Whites are getting vaccinated at higher rates than Latinos and African Americans and “that has to change.”

Meanwhile, Latinos and immigrants are being hospitalized and dying from COVID-19 at disproportionate rates, Garcia said. Many are essential employees working in meatpacking plants, construction jobs and grocery stores.

Rampant misinformation is also promulgated via WhatsApp, a messaging application that many Latin Americans use, Garcia said. That’s led some to believe the vaccines are a government conspiracy to implant microchips in people’s arms.

“They have nothing to fear except the COVID itself,” Garcia said.

Some North Texans may be upset an old and sick immigrant is getting vaccinated before them, Morris said. Still, for many undocumented workers who depend on their paycheck, “the sky falls” if they’re too ill to work.

Texas in particular has a sizeable immigrant workforce. The Center for American Progress reports that undocumented workers are 8.4% of the state’s labor force, tying with Nevada for the highest rate nationwide.

As of now, only people in Phase 1A and 1B of the state’s distribution plan can receive the vaccine. But Jenkins said the county is updating its website to allow for entire-family registrations, regardless of priority ranking.

Those who don’t have internet access can call 1-855-IMMUNE9 for help, he said.

Many vaccination sites require photo ID, but Morris said it doesn’t have to be one that’s government-issued; library cards or school IDs will also work.

With the proliferation of COVID-19 conspiracy theories, Morris said, vaccine information should be simple and clear.

“It’s not a very complicated message,” she said. “It’s just: Everybody’s welcome.”
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Simone Carter, a staff news reporter at the Dallas Observer, graduated from the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism. Her favorite color is red, but she digs Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.
Contact: Simone Carter