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The Central Valley News Collaborative includes The Fresno Bee, Vida en el Valle, Valley Public Radio and Radio Bilingüe. The project was announced in late 2020 and began its work in 2021 with the Collaborative's reporters shining a light on how the Central Valley’s communities of color have been disproportionately impacted, physically and financially, by COVID-19. The Collaborative is now exploring how the drought and climate change could reshape the valley, and the lives of the people who work in the agriculture industry. The Collaborative is supported by the Central Valley Community Foundation, with technology and training support by Microsoft Corp.

‘There’s Always Risk’: Latino Residents Share Fears, Concerns about COVID-19 Vaccine

Madi Bolanos
Rafael Cisneros, 45, hands a flower balloon to a young girl at the Cherry Auction Swap Meet in Fresno County.

On a warm Saturday morning in south Fresno County, families and vendors bargain at the Cherry Auction, the Central Valley’s largest outdoor market. Latino residents have come here for decades to browse endless rows of vendors in search of clothing, blankets, produce and much more.

A song -- ‘Carta Jugada’ by Banda Tuzantla -- blares from 27-year-old Alejandro Gonzalez’s CD stand. Gonzalez and his family have sold CD’s at the swap meet since he was 8 years old. 

“It officially became mine when I was 15,” he says. “My dad passed away and I took over the stand.”  

He says selling CD’s is a dying business; he's even considered an exit plan a few times, especially during the pandemic. The Cherry Auction never fully closed in the past year, but he says there were a few months where hardly anyone showed up. 


“There were weeks that were really tough,” he says. 


Credit Madi Bolanos / KVPR
Alejandro Gonzalez,27,  sells CD's on aisle 11S at the Cherry Auction in Fresno County.

He has other jobs during the week, but he relies on their sales at the swap meet to make some extra cash to support his family. But with coronavirus cases declining in the San Joaquin Valley and vaccines becoming more available, things are looking up. 

“Now that it’s opening up I can tell that people are excited about it,” he says. “People want to come and buy.” 

But for the county to safely reopen, public health officials need to convince more people to get vaccinated. A recent poll from the Public Policy Institute of California finds that 20% of people in the Central Valley won’t get the vaccine. The region has the highest rate of vaccine hesitancy in the state, it finds.  

In Fresno County, Latinos are the majority of the population, but they only make up about 36% of people who have received at least one dose of the vaccine. 

Gonzalez says for him, getting the vaccine was about protecting his family. 

“Because my mom, well obviously she’s a little bit older and at the same time I have a sister that’s pretty sick,” he says. “I want to make sure that I put myself in a position where I don’t pass that over to them.” 

His wife sells small toys a few aisles down and his mom sells perfumes and cologne at a stand next to him. Gonzalez says his mom was hesitant to get the vaccine because of what she had heard from spanish news outlets and social media sites like Facebook.

“After speaking with her directly, she understood logically it’s reasonable to get the vaccine,” he says. “Like in anything we consume in our body, there's always risk.”

She got the vaccine but others at the swap meet are still hesitant. 

Misinformation About the COVID-19 Vaccine 

Marla Gonzalez is here with her husband and two kids. She came to the swap meet to purchase a faja, or waist trainer, used by some women to give the illusion of a smaller waist. 

She says she doesn’t have plans to get the vaccine anytime soon. That’s especially true after hearing that health officials briefly paused the use of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine last month, following reports that six women who got the shot developed blood clots.

“Because a lot of people still haven’t taken it either,” she says in Spanish. “And also with the news of them pausing the Johnson and Johnson vaccine.”

She hadn’t heard that the CDC had allowed the Johnson and Johnson vaccine to be administered again and admitted she doesn’t pay much attention to the news. When she does, she says, she doesn’t hear good things about the vaccine.

“I heard on Univision that people have died from the vaccine or that they had strong reactions to the vaccine,” she says. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently says there are no deaths directly attributed to COVID-19 vaccines.

Gonzalez says she might take it if it becomes a requirement at work. 

Ana Saucedo, 32, is here with her three kids. She says she contracted COVID-19while working at a distribution warehouse in Fresno. She says the company was incentivising people to work more hours back in December.

“They were doing this like a thousand dollar bonus if we stayed at work for 10 days for 10 hours,” she says. “People didn’t want to miss out on that so they were coming to work sick.” 

That experience convinced her to get the vaccine, but her husband is still not ready.

“He just doesn’t want to feel the symptoms,” she says. “He thinks he’ll feel the symptoms instantly after receiving the vaccine.”

Fear of Vaccine Side Effects 

Saucedo’s parents are also hesitant about getting the vaccine but for other reasons, she says. 

“My mom just says that she thinks they’re just testing it on people right now,” she says.   

It feels too early for her mom, Saucedo says. 

Credit Madi Bolanos / KVPR
Rafael Cisneros, 45, makes a flower balloon for a young girl at the Cherry Auction.

The Public Policy Institute of California’s poll shows 8% of people surveyed in the Central Valley might take the vaccine in a year. Just one region -- the Inland Empire -- had a higher percentage of people who said they’d wait that long before taking the vaccine. Saucedo says she continues to try to convince her mom that getting the vaccine is ultimately for their family’s safety. 

On the other side of the swap meet, 45-year-old Rafael Cisneros is making balloon animals for kids in exchange for tips. He’s a roofer, but he learned balloon art in 2008 when the recession hit and home construction ground to a halt. The skill has come in handy again during the pandemic, he says.

After spending money on supplies, gasoline, renting a space at the Cherry Auction and snacks for his kids, he says he makes about $60 at the swap meet. 

His four boys watch him from the shade as he makes swords and flower balloons for other kids. Cisneros says he’s ready for the pandemic to be over so he can return to working on roofs full time.


But he’s still not sure about getting the vaccine. He points to the warning that women under 50 face a rare risk of blood clots from the Johnson and Johnson vaccine.


“I’ve heard that it gives you blood clots and that’s why people don’t want to take it. That’s why I’m waiting,” he says. “Because if I get it and that happens to my blood and then I have my kids, well, what am I going to do?” 


Like others, he says he isn’t completely ruling out the vaccine, he just needs more time. 

This story is part of the Central Valley News Collaborative, which is supported by the Central Valley Community Foundation with technology and training support by Microsoft Corp.

Madi Bolanos covered immigration and underserved communities for KVPR from 2020-2022. Before joining the station, she interned for POLITCO in Washington D.C. where she reported on US trade and agriculture as well as indigenous women’s issues during the Canadian election. She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a minor in anthropology from San Francisco State University. Madi spent a semester studying at the Danish Media and Journalism School where she covered EU policies in Brussels and alleged police brutality at the Croatian-Serbian border.
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