SF woman who will have fingers amputated after nearly dying from COVID-19, still hesitant about vaccine

At one point, while in a coma, doctors considered amputating both of her legs as well.

Luz Pena Image
Friday, December 18, 2020
Woman who nearly died from COVID still hesitant to take vaccine
Latinos continue to be the minority with the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the country, according to the CDC. Yet, an overwhelming percentage of that population says they don't trust the vaccine. Here's why.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Latinos continue to be the minority with the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the country. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 24% of cases are among this demographic.

In the Bay Area, doctors on the front line of this pandemic say it's been difficult to get Latinos to be part of vaccine trials, but why?

RELATED: Building a Better Bay Area: Vaccine Watch

Martha Macias, a cleaning professional and San Francisco Mission resident, describes the agonizing months of her fight against COVID-19.

"Yo me enferme de Coronavirus y fue muy grave. Me cai en coma por un mes. Los doctors me decian que tenia el 10% de sobrevivir," said Macias. ("I had coronavirus and it was terrible. It put me in coma for a month. Doctors told me I had a 10% chance of survival.")

The coronavirus ravaged Macia's body for months. Doctors explained to her that the virus triggered a cluster of blood clots throughout her body. The lack of oxygen and blood flow threatened her legs and arms. She says doctors considered amputating both of her legs while she was in a coma.

SUPPORT MARTHA: GoFundMe campaign here

For years, Macias had been treated for diabetes, negatively impacting her recovery.

Macias describes thinking she was going to die. "Yes, I was scared too much," said Macias.

As Martha was fighting for her life, she learned her 81-year-old mother was, too. They lived in the same small apartment.

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"Yo habia ido al hospital y le decia no te me acerques porque eso duele mucho. Esto te va a tumbar, te va a matar no te acerques ma acerques vete a tu cuarto. Y mi mama se puso a llorar y me decia 'no me quieres' y yo le decia 'no es que no te quiera ma, porque te quiero no te me acerques por favor," said Macias. ("I used to tell my mom, please don't come close to me. My mom would cry and tell me 'you don't love me' and I would explain to her 'Mom because I love you, please go to your room.")

Martha and her family are part of this somber statistic.

According to the latest CDC data, nearly 24% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S are among Latinos, making this demographic the minority with the highest number of cases nationwide.

The same pattern was found in California data, where more than 57% of COVID-19 cases are also among Latinos.

Last month, Governor Gavin Newsom said Blacks and Latinos who have been disproportionately impacted by the virus should be among the first to get the vaccine.

"There is mixed response on that. There is fear and at the same time people are so eager to go back to some sort of stability," said Lorena Melgarejo, Executive Director of Faith in Action Bay Area.

RELATED: Experts hope to fight COVID-19 vaccine distrust among Black community through education

Latino-focused nonprofits say that fear comes from a rooted mistrust in the federal government.

Unidos US, the United States' largest Latino nonprofit advocacy organization, surveyed more than 1,000 Black adults and 258 Latinx adults, calling it one of the largest surveys on vaccine hesitancy to date.

They found only 34% of Latinx Americans trust a vaccine will be safe.

Dr. Hector Bonilla is seeing this as he works to enroll Latinos in the Johnson and Johnson vaccine trials

"We want to enroll Hispanic because we don't know if the vaccine protection has any difference between Hispanic, Caucasian or African Americans. So it's very important to include different racial groups and try to see any difference in immune responses and protection," said Dr. Bonilla, who is the associate professor of infectious diseases at Stanford University.

Luz Pena: "Why do think there is so much hesitancy from the Latino community when it comes to getting the vaccine?"

Dr. Bonilla: "For lack of education. We need to spend more time trying to spend what the vaccine can do for them and their families"

For months, a group of UCSF doctors and the Latino task force has been testing and gathering data to understand why Latinos have been disproportionally impacted by this virus.

RELATED: 40 Latino nonprofits in CA awarded $2 million in grants during COVID-19 pandemic

Their latest numbers from San Francisco's Mission test site at 24th Street show that 1 in 10 Latinos had the virus.

"We've had many people now that have tested with us back in April, July and every time I talk to them, they're saying I went through that before. I think it's a great program, and it's easily accessible. We came to meet them where they are at and I think that also builds some trust," said Dr. Luis Rubio, UCSF Infectious Diseases fellow.

Dr. Rubio believes the word "trust" will be key as we get closer to a vaccine.

"Build that relationship, I think the Latino task force has been essential to build that trust. We are going to have to follow their lead to have the community trust us and receive the vaccine," said Dr. Rubio.

RELATED: What is 'vaccine nationalism?' Experts explain threat to fair distribution of COVID-19 shots

At community test sites, like the one in the Mission District, close to 500 people were tested on a daily basis -- a model infectious disease doctors are considering as a good framework for potential vaccine distribution within the Latino community.

"That resiliency and that community toughness in the Latino community... we are going to have to use as a resource to create education and support one another to make a choice around the vaccine," said Melgarejo.

As to Martha Macias, she and her mother both survived, but were not entirely spared. Martha will have two fingers amputated.

"No es igual que me corten los dedos... que me corten la vida no," said Macias. ("It's not the same to get two fingers amputated to losing my life.")

Luz Pena: "After everything that you went through Martha, would you get the vaccine?"

Martha Macias: "Si me la pondria pero no ahorita. En un future cuando pueda ver que no hay complicaciones con las personas que se las pongan" (Yes, I would but not right now. In the future perhaps. I want to see how other people react to it when they get it.")

If you'd like to help support Martha and her mother, you can do so through her GoFundMe campaign here.

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