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Advocates Combat COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy In Undocumented Communities

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Nearly 13 percent of the entire population of Illinois is fully vaccinated for COVID-19.

But CBS 2 Investigator Dorothy Tucker discovered there is still a lot of hesitation in one particular community - and we all need to make it a priority to make sure they're not left out.

On a cold day in February, a steady stream of cars lined up. People inside received more than just food from community volunteers in Little Village – they got potentially life-saving information too.

"Every individual who's waiting in line is being asked if they'd like to be vaccinated," said Karina Ayala Bernejo, President and Chief Executive Officer of Instituto del Progreso Latino.

The event was a partnership between Instituto del Progreso Latino and Oak Street Health.

"With the vaccine and the equitable distribution of it and watching our community having so many obstacles to register and obtain the vaccination, we knew that Instituto had to step up in partnerships like you just saw," Bernejo said.

It is a coming together health that experts say is vital to controlling the virus.

"We need credible messengers," said Ayo Olaguke of the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health.

There are many myths for these messengers to dispel. Olaguke studies vaccine hesitancy – particularly among communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

"The top on the list has been safety. We've also had concerns around effectiveness and the vaccine development process," Olaguke said.

But for one group, there are other concerns too. Tucker asked about the reasons for hesitancy – especially among the undocumented immigrants.

"We've had people say things like: 'This is just a plot to maybe trace us. If I'm undocumented, I don't know if you would share this information with immigration,'" Olaguke said.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement has said that won't happen. But CBS 2 spoke with four undocumented women who aren't convinced.

They're all essential workers, who want to remain anonymous. They told us many in their community simply don't trust the government.

"I believe that there are so many abuses that we have had, and deceptions," one woman said through an interpreter.

Their definition of abuse and deception? The government's handling of undocumented immigrants at the border.

"That's why sometimes we no longer want to believe reality," the woman said.

Many are particularly worried about giving out personal information to get the shot.

"Asking them their birthdate, their address – and for that reason, people decline getting a vaccine," the woman said.

These are concerns that those trusted community groups are trying to combat.

"You're not going to be in a database where your private information is going to be revealed," Bernejo said.

But, if those fears persist and the undocumented remain unvaccinated, Olaguke worries about the impact on everyone.

"Infectious diseases don't know. They don't care about your status," Olaguke said. "Whether they're documented or not, they can transmit the virus."

So what other ways can one get more of the undocumented vaccinated? Instituto del Progreso Latino would like to see identification requests waived for people who don't feel comfortable sharing that information – and of course, increased access to the vaccine in communities that are hardest hit.

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