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Vaccine Talks: Having Hard Conversations With Loved Ones In The COVID Labyrinth

Syringes containing a dose of the new one-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine are viewed at a vaccination event at Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza in South L.A. on March 11, 2021. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
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Navigating the labyrinth that’s become the vaccination system in Southern California is one challenge. Having hard conversations with loved ones about getting vaccinated for COVID-19 is another.

Mistrust and misinformation are real concerns in our communities. And thousands of Angelenos have to grapple with another wave of decisions during the pandemic: Do I get the vaccine or wait?

Daniela Gerson, a journalism professor at Cal State Northridge, asked her students to document these exchanges with family and friends.

You’ll be able to read those experiences and conversations from Gerson’s “Engaging Diverse Communities” class on LAist this week as part of the “Vaccine Talks” series. You can also hear their voices on KPCC’s L.A. news and culture program Take Two.

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Gerson shared with us how her students navigated these conversations:

My student Fabiola Perez Lopez’s fury charged the flatness of our Zoom session. We had just reviewed reports that Watts, where she lives, has among the lowest vaccination rates in L.A. and how white, work-from-homers were taking advantage of a loophole to access vaccines reserved for communities like hers which the pandemic had hit hard.

Fabiola, front row right, with her siblings and her mother. (Photo by Jorge Damian Gutierrez)

“Once we started to get the vaccine I pictured seeing everybody getting vaccinated,” Fabiola reflected. “It was just like the opposite.”

Yet, even in Fabiola’s family, not everyone would get the vaccine if they could. While her parents -- supermarket and fast food workers who were already sick with COVID-19 -- eagerly got the vaccine, one of her brothers says it’s too soon to put in his body. Other loved ones share rumors they’ve seen on social media that someone has died and flip flop on whether they should take the vaccine.

My CSUN journalism students reflect the spectrum of Los Angeles — Latino, Black, Armenian, Asian, Arab and white — and hail from across Southern California. Across those differences, a clear common experience emerged as many families struggled together as vaccine opportunities have become more widespread with a decision of when, and if, to take the vaccine.

In an effort to understand the vaccine gap, my students started interviewing their own loved ones who were eligible or could be soon. If their conversations are any indication, access is just one of many roadblocks to a successful vaccination effort.

A mother in Glendale hesitates to get the vaccine out of fear of the health impacts. A father in Palmdale is desperate for the vaccine, but still on oxygen after having COVID-19 and not eligible.

At the same time, in those sometimes difficult conversations some surprises emerged, and opinions changed. A grandmother in Oxnard defied doubts others expressed and signed up for it. Siblings teamed up to convince their health worker mother to get the shot even as she feared it. A call from a doctor and some nudging from a grandson won out over social media rumors spreading in Armenian.

One shared truth that has emerged is the road to vanquishing COVID-19 from our communities is a labyrinthian one playing out in conversations across the dinner table, via social media posts, and over calls to the doctor across Southern California.

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Interested in talking to your loved ones? Here are tips on how to do it well.


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