EVANS, Colo. — Since October of 2020, Chris Garcia has shared statewide COVID-19 response information on his social media platforms.
Though he retains a modest following compared to social media superstars, his followers in Northern Colorado comprise a crucial group of Coloradans in the COVID-19 response. Garcia is an organizer and an activist in Spanish-speaking communities around Greeley.
His word, he says, is more trusted than information that might come from television news or the state.
"It's telling you: Listen to the guy who got vaccinated, who is telling you like this is why it matters," Garcia said. "I want our community to be able to move forward and our state to be able to say we're getting past this."
A report by Axios shows how much the state has put into a social media push to get information about vaccines to Coloradans. Using $8.8 million in CARES Act funds, the state government has contracted with the Denver-based Idea Marketing to hire 126 social media influencers across diverse demographics.
The influencers are paid anywhere from $400 to $1,000 per month based on reach. Each influencer is required to publish eight posts per month about vaccines to reach their networks.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said in a statement that the social media push is part of a larger strategy to raise trust among Coloradans in the vaccine.
"The influencers are from diverse backgrounds and speak to their community, which we know is impactful," the statement says. "Research has shown that people like to hear from peers and trusted community members when they are making decisions about their health."
Garcia said his goal is to help the people who follow his platforms to trust the vaccines. That trust is gained by listening and responding respectfully to the concerns of his community.
"I'm sharing what matters to me. And this matters to me because I want our communities to move forward," Garcia said. "It's an opportunity for me to say, 'These matter to me. Here are the issues I want to push forward.'"
But even as the statewide push to reach diverse communities continues, vaccination rates among the Latinx communities across the state continue to lag. According to data from Colorado's vaccine website, Hispanics represent only 10.16% of the state's vaccinated residents, even though they comprise 20.22% of the population. That's compared to the 67.95% of white residents who are vaccinated, which is roughly on par with the population.
Currently, just over 62% of eligible Coloradans are vaccinated. As the delta variant continues to spread, there is a renewed urgency to increase vaccination rates in populations that have been overlooked or are skeptical of the vaccines.
Garcia said platforms like his are crucial for the plan moving forward.
"I tell people, 'Do it for your kids. Do it for your community. Do it for your small business. Do it for all of these reasons that matter to you,'" Garcia said. "It's more important now than ever."