EVERETT, Mass. - Sunday after Sunday, parishioners would approach Victor Chicas privately after he delivered his sermon in a small storefront church next to a Dunkin' Donuts.
Was the coronavirus vaccine safe, they asked their beloved pastor. Would it enable the government to track them? And what, they wanted to know, might the vaccine represent for Christians?.
Chicas agonized over what to tell the 80 members of Ministerio Dios Habla Hoy's congregation, weighing concerns about his own ill health against his interpretation of the word of God and rumors spreading on the Internet.
"This vaccine has the potential to become a method to control humanity," Chicas said from his wheelchair, echoing worries that the technology will allow authorities to keep tabs on immigrants.
Chicas's doubts reflect the dilemma facing public health officials as they grapple with vaccine hesitancy among Latinos, including the growing number, like Chicas, who identify as evangelical. Long-standing distrust of government among many Latinos is combined with widespread misinformation online and religious worries that the vaccine represents loyalty to God's enemies. The reluctance, which threatens communities that have already been devastated by covid-19, is prompting responses from the White House on down, where the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships has held regular calls with faith leaders to discuss strategies for combating hesitancy.
"We are being very intentional," said Gabriel Salguero, founder of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, who takes part in the White House calls. "There are justifiable reasons to be cautious," Salguero said, describing a history of abuse by public health officials and wariness of immigration authorities. The coalition has made vaccine acceptance central to its mission, teaming up with the nonprofit Ad Council to create messages aimed at Hispanic evangelicals at several thousand congregations across the country, including in the Boston area.