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Brazilian Church educates Venezuelan immigrants about vaccination

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SÃO PAULO – In Roraima, the Brazilian state with the second lowest COVID-19 vaccination rate in the country, the Church is actively working to educate the thousands of Venezuelan immigrants who have failed to get vaccinated.

Almost 65% of Brazilians have already received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. In Roraima, however, that number drops to 39.65%.

About 650,000 people live in the state, which is located in the Amazon region in the north of the country. No one knows for sure how many Venezuelans live in Roraima, but they have been estimated at 50,000. Most of them have arrived in the past four years, as they fled social and economic turmoil in Venezuela.

“Bolsonarism is very strong in Roraima. So the denial is also strong here ”, declared Ronaldo da Silva Santos, vice-coordinator of the pastoral care of migrants of the diocese of Roraima. Node.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has played down the risk of a pandemic from the start, criticizing the use of face masks, the imposition of social distancing measures and even vaccines.

Among Venezuelan immigrants, there are other causes of resistance to vaccination, Santos explained, including the circulation of stories questioning the safety of the vaccine.

“When they come to our services, I always ask them if they have taken the vaccine. Many say no and say they have heard bad things about the vaccine and fear it now, ”Santos said.

Another reason is the undocumented status of many members of the Venezuelan community. During most of the pandemic, the border between Brazil and Venezuela remained closed, but people never stopped crossing, often taking irregular paths in the woods, known in Spanish as the trochus.

“Sometimes Venezuelans cross the border without any personal identification. They can live and work in rural areas for several months without obtaining individual identification in the Brazilian taxpayer register. [CPF]”Santos said.

Without CPF, migrants can be denied the vaccine, especially in small towns and the countryside.

“Many undocumented Venezuelans don’t even go to a dispensary to try to get a dose. They simply conclude that they will not be allowed to be vaccinated and do not bother to go, ”said Ronildo Rodrigues, executive director of the Caritas office of the diocese. Node.

The local church has been promoting immunization since realizing that Roraima state was lagging behind.

“We decided to intervene directly in the situation. We started talking to each migrant helped by one of our services. We also held discussions on vaccination, ”said Rodrigues.

Local Caritas launched a campaign in October to provide reliable information about the disease and vaccination to Venezuelans. A car with a loudspeaker would cross the state broadcasting ten messages encoded by Caritas in Portuguese and Spanish as it passed through the migrant camps in the towns of Boa Vista and Pacaraima.

The results of these projects could not be properly measured, but all Church workers who deal with immigrants have seen concrete changes.

“We observed that many people who came to see us at Caritas stopped fearing the vaccine and took it,” Rodrigues said.

But resistance to vaccination continues to be a problem among many Venezuelans, Santos said. According to Rodrigues, many local radio stations are politically aligned with Bolsonaro and amplify false information about the vaccine.

Religious services have tried to help immigrants and refugees by filling out forms to request their Brazilian documents from the government.

Venezuelans assisted by Caritas, the pastoral ministry of migrants and other Church services have been urged to be vaccinated before being helped.

“If the person refuses, of course we render our service in the same way. But before we do, we have a serious conversation with him, ”Santos said.

La Pastorale des Migrants informed the immigrants on the places where they should go to be vaccinated. He also created a social media campaign, asking people to post a photo of themselves getting the shot and say a line about the importance of getting the shot.

“In the parishes, information on the deployment of vaccination is provided during celebrations and educational activities. Diocesan radio also broadcasts this content, ”Rodrigues said.

He added that despite the extreme vulnerability of many Venezuelans, there have not been many cases of COVID-19 among them.

“Thank goodness! If the number of cases increased, xenophobia would increase even more in Roraima. Some would already say that the pandemic is the fault of Venezuelans,” Rodrigues said, mentioning the growing number of acts of aggression and others. incidents involving Brazilians and Venezuelan immigrants.