Vietnamese community is among the most vaccinated in Alabama
BAYOU LA BÃTRE, Ala.
At the wharf in Bayou La Batre, Alabama, shrimp boat Captain Truc Le unties a thick mooring line attached to his blue and white vessel with the name “Lucky Kim” painted on the side.
Le, his wife and son are at the wharf to replenish the ice that cools their shrimp catch. The continued to fish throughout the pandemic. He wasn’t too nervous about COVID-19, but his family members were, so he received a vaccine, he said.
âThey worry that if they don’t get the vaccine they will easily catch the virus,â said Le, who does not speak English, in Vietnamese.
Alabama has the second-lowest COVID-19 vaccination rate in the country. The small Vietnamese immigrant community in the Gulf has taken a different approach.
Community leaders estimate that nearly everyone who qualifies, over 90 percent of eligible Vietnamese Americans in Alabama, got the hang of it. This is compared to just 34 percent of all Alabamians.
Le’s son, who works on the boat with his father, said he was planning to get the vaccine, mainly because his family wanted it. Le’s wife, Phuong Thi Nguyen, loaded ice into coolers near an industrial ice machine on the quay. She said her daughter helped her get an appointment for a vaccine in Mobile because she could not speak English.
âThe people around us, most of them have been vaccinated,â she said in Vietnamese, through a translator. “They told me that if I get vaccinated, the percentage (of chance) of getting COVID-19 is low.”
There are about 4,000 Vietnamese in this area of ââAlabama and about 900 in Bayou La Batre, community leaders estimate. Nguyen says she sees other members of the local Vietnamese community during holidays, such as New Years, at the local Vietnamese community center and at their homes, especially when family visits and friends pass by.
She says her lack of English is the hardest part of life in the United States
In southern Alabama, many Vietnamese, like Le and Nguyen, work in the fishing industry. They immigrated to Louisiana, Mississippi, and the Gulf of Alabama in a wave of migration in the 1980s when the United States allowed refugees to immigrate here after the Vietnam War.
Daniel Le, director of the Gulf chapter of Boat People SOS, a national group that helps Vietnamese immigrants to the United States, said many Vietnamese in that part of the country take COVID-19 seriously. They have observed the restrictions and they are listening to the scientists
âCulturally, in general, Vietnamese believe in health care providers,â Le said. âThey know the health care provider knows what’s best for them.
THE FIRST ADOPTERS IN BAYOU LA BÃTRE
At the Bayou Pharmacy, across from the docks, Vietnamese customers are typically a minority of store buyers, around 15%, but they became the majority when the vaccines arrived, pharmacy technician Courtney Moore said.
âAt the start of the vaccine, we would have 80 people days, and 70 would be Vietnamese,â she said.
It was Moore’s job to call through the wait list in early 2021, when vaccines were in high demand.
âWe have one of the only pharmacies with a Vietnamese speaking person; now we have two, âsaid Moore, whose mother is Vietnamese. âPeople are more comfortable with the language barrier.
The pharmacy arranged for both phone and paper vaccinations, which helped alleviate language and digital access barriers that would have existed with online scheduling.
Pharmacist Rubesh Patel said Vietnamese in Bayou la Batre are more willing to be vaccinated of all kinds.
âA lot of them are patients here anyway, so they tell their family members, I’m taking my meds there, ‘I trust them,'” he said.
At Accordia Health, a local health clinic, around 35 percent of Dr. Rajesh Gujjula’s patients are Vietnamese.
Many of his non-Vietnamese patients have waited to get vaccinated, he said. The statistics for Mobile County are slightly lower than those for the state with about 30 percent of the total population vaccinated.
His Vietnamese patients have mostly been vaccinated on their own initiative.
âTheir friends got it, that’s the pretty standard answer you get,â he said. “Or it was their family who got them vaccinated.”
Nationally, there is little data on vaccinations among Vietnamese immigrants, said Dr Tung Nguyen, professor of medicine at UC San Francisco.
âWe don’t really have any survey data regarding Americans of Vietnamese descent and COVID vaccinations,â he said in an email. “In general, immunization tends to be higher among Asian Americans if access is not a problem.”
THE BUDDHIST MONK SETS THE EXAMPLE
On the outskirts of town, a Buddhist temple is set back from the road. It is a yellow trailer with a red gable roof built over the porch. The front lawn is dotted with magnolias and mimosas and large statues of Buddha.
The temple’s ceiling was damaged by a hurricane last fall. There is mold on the roof. Monk Bon Le said that if it had not been for the storm damage, his congregation would meet again for night study.
They are almost fully vaccinated. He said he believed in the science behind the vaccine and encouraged his followers to get it. He used himself as an example, and most followed.
“Our Vietnamese community has always believed in the US government and every time they distribute the vaccine to the community, we will basically follow the directive.”
The said that the history of trust dates back to the Vietnam War. After the war, the United States allowed Vietnamese refugees and their families to immigrate here.
“We always carry the thanks, in our minds, for the help they provided to us during this time.”
SPREAD THE WORD
Ana Chau works in an oyster shell processing plant with around 30 people. Her factory limited work days to two per week due to COVID-19, but she was still afraid of contracting the virus at work.
âOnce I heard the news that I might get the vaccine, I went to the pharmacy where they referred me,â she said.
Chau arrived in the United States from Vietnam in 1992 under a law that allowed children of American soldiers to be granted immigration priority. His father was an American soldier.
She is a well connected member of the Vietnamese community of Bayou La Batre. She often volunteers to spread the word for Boat People SOS when they are trying to educate the community on something.
“When I got mine, I went home and called every number I know to advise them to go schedule the vaccine to spread the word.”
There have been a few deaths from COVID-19 in the Vietnamese community, and some people are suffering from the long-term effects of the disease. It scared a lot of people, said Kim-Lien Tran, Boat People’s SOS community health worker.
Tran was born in Vietnam and her family immigrated to New Orleans in 1975 when she was very young. New Orleans, along with Biloxi and Bayou La Batre, are Vietnamese immigration centers along the Gulf.
âThey are very united,â Tran said of the Vietnamese communities she was a part of. âThey are always there for each other. It’s a welcoming thing to see. I grew up in a large Vietnamese community, so I know what it feels like, âshe said. âEven if they don’t know who you are, they just help you without even thinking about anything. “
Yet Tran does not consider Vietnamese-American culture more communal than American culture.
âI think it’s a stereotype. It depends where you are. American culture is also very tight-knit.
In her role, Tran helps non-English speakers access healthcare and translate basic documents, like tax forms. Boat People SOS acts as an intermediary between local government and state agencies, including the Department of Health.
She helps the Vietnamese to fulfill government requests for energy assistance. Many work long hours in nail salons and seafood factories and have little time to learn English, which is a hindrance to their lives here.
Vietnamese-language sources have spread misinformation about vaccines, especially on YouTube. At their desk, they distribute CDC information in Vietnamese. It was mostly effective.
âThey think about their family members. Many of them suffer from chronic illnesses, âshe said of the predominantly elderly population who live here. And they think of getting back to normal and their need to work.
Meanwhile, in Vietnam, the number of cases has been in the thousands until a recent increase in cases following the spread of a variant. The military has imposed COVID-19 restrictions, closing residential blocks following a known infection.
Strict COVID-19 measures in Asian countries like Vietnam were a good model for the pandemic, said Phu Nguyen, a community elder. He immigrated in 2013 to live with his children in Bayou la Batre.
âToo much freedom forces us not to be careful about it, so COVID can easily be spread through our recklessness. “
Nguyen worked as an oyster sheller until last year when he was laid off due to COVID-19. Now that he’s vaccinated, he hopes to start a new job immediately.
âAfter being vaccinated, I feel a little safer to go out and go to work. “