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Photo Credit: ETHAN MILLER/GETTY IMAGES
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Hispanic medical leaders in Philly collaborate to get more Latinos vaccinated against COVID-19

Unidos Contra COVID, a new grassroots organization, hopes to support Philadelphia’s community vaccination efforts in Hispanic communities.  

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As the world takes the next step in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic in the form of vaccinations, local Hispanic medical professionals are making sure Philadelphia’s Hispanic community isn't left behind.

Recently, a group of seasoned and experienced local Hispanic nurses and physicians founded and spearheaded Unidos Contra COVID, a grassroots collaborative organization whose mission is to support Philadelphia’s community vaccination efforts in Hispanic communities.

The core leadership of the organization consists of Dr. Jose Torradas, Director of Testing and Vaccine with Ivee Medical; Dr. Melissa Pluguez-Moldavskiy, Advanced Practice Provider at Cooper University Health Care; Nurse Cookie Sanchez, Clinical Manager at BAYADA Home Health Care; Dr. Natalia Ortiz-Torrent, President of the Philadelphia Medical Society; Valerie Caraballo, Family Nurse Practitioner at Cooper University Health Care; and Dr. Diana Montoya-Williams, Professor of Neonatology at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia;. 

“Each of us brings a level of expertise and connections to different groups that could turn this into a real esfuerzo del pueblo,” said Dr. Jose Torradas.

Throughout their medical careers, each has seen firsthand some of the many challenges that the Latino community in Philadelphia faces within the healthcare system. The pandemic has shone an even brighter light to these challenges, and they are looking to find innovative solutions for the community. 

“COVID has been a modern tragedy,” said Dr. Melissa Pluguez-Moldavskiy. “It has, in my opinion, further highlighted the racial disparities that occur in the current healthcare system.”

Once COVID testing progressed into vaccinations, the group knew there needed to be swift and culturally sensitive options available to the Hispanic community of Philadelphia.

That is where Unidos Contra COVID comes in. 

Since the vaccine rollout has begun, only about 5% of the Philadelphia’s Hispanic population has gotten vaccinated to date. This is a stark underrepresentation of the city’s nearly 15% Hispanic population.

“The Latinos have been affected disproportionately, and now is the group with the [least percentage] of vaccinations,” said Dr. Natalia Ortiz. 

While community medical groups such as the Black Doctors COVID Consortium have also taken it upon themselves to get more people in the Black community to get vaccinated, “efforts like these don’t just pop up every day,” said Dr. Torradas.

With established medical clinics already having to run their day-to-day operations, efforts to create events to get hundreds of additional people vaccinated per day can become too much.

Unidos is looking to help fill that gap by proposing 39 events over six months and adding 500 hours of extra staffing hours for other non-Unidos events that could use the help.

The two proposed sites are Concilio, and a very large church in the 19138 ZIP code in Northwest Philadelphia with very low resources. These sites would target 20,000 to 25,000 vaccinations. 

The organization is also working with Hispanic association heads of law enforcement and paramedics to ensure that the events are appropriately represented and staffed by fellow Spanish speakers. 

“This effort is critical to stem and perhaps turn the tide of the massacre that is occuring to our neighbors, family, and loved ones,” said Dr. Pluguez-Moldavskiy.

As the organization awaits approval by the Department of Public Health for Philadelphia, the leadership group will continue to drive the initiative and aim to enhance trust and education, for those who may need it most, toward the vaccine, as well as those administering it. 

“We are a culture that needs that connection and I am hoping that by getting this proposal approved, that we can get back to some normalcy,” said Nurse Cookie Sanchez. 

“This initiative, in my mind, is life and death for our Latinx community,” Dr. Pluguez-Moldavskiy added. 

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