SAN JOSE, California – On an unusually warm February day, two men working with a local community group went door-to-door in a multiracial neighborhood to convince people to sign up. Covid-19 vaccination.
It was only after 11am when they encountered the first person reluctant to be shot. The doors came down and 30 minutes later, it happened again. For almost an hour, they stood on the front lawn with George Rodriguez, 67, chatting about the neighborhood, the pandemic, and the current vaccines.
“I saw all of this online, about how it would change my DNA. It affects your DNA, doesn’t it? “Who is Hispanic,” asked Mr. Rodriguez. “There is so much going on, so much mixed information. And then I heard that even if you get vaccinated you can still get sick. Why did I get it? “
Black and Hispanic communities, which have been more heavily affected by the pandemic and have lower immunization rates than whites, are facing conspiracy theories about vaccines, rumors and Reporting false news on social media like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter and online private messaging, health agencies and misinformation researchers said.
Various misinformation, such as claims that vaccines can alter DNA – which is not true – and vaccines not working, or people of color being used as guinea pigs. A large portion of this inaccurate information comes from friends, family and celebrities, emerging in communities particularly hit by the pandemic and facing other barriers to injection. strains.
Foreign news agencies and anti-vaccine activists have also actively tried to question the safety and effectiveness of vaccines made in the United States and Europe.
Misinformation caused some states to make complicated efforts to reach Black and Hispanic residents, especially when health officials provided special registration codes for vaccination appointments. Instead of a boon, in some cases the codes became the basis for new false reports.
“On the surface what might look like, when doctors prioritize the black community that is being read by some online as ‘Oh, those doctors want us to be guinea pigs’, ” said Kolina Koltai, Researcher at Washington University, who studies conspiracy theories online. “I’ve seen people on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Clubhouse – you name it – say the codes are a way to tie vaccines on communities of color as an experiment.”
Research conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation nonprofit in mid-February showed significant disparities between racial groups receiving vaccines in the 34 states that reported data.
Status metrics vary widely. In Texas, where people identified as Hispanic make up 42% of the population, only 20% of those vaccinated go to that group. In Mississippi, where Blacks make up 38 percent of the population, they have received 22 percent vaccinated. According to analysis by The New York Times, the vaccination rate for black Americans is half that of whites, and the gap for Hispanics is even greater.
While the researchers say the lack of easy access to vaccination sites could be the biggest cause of such deficiencies, misinformation is playing a role.
Ms. Koltai said that the belief that the doctors are interested in testing on certain communities has deep roots in some groups. Anti-vaccine activists have been based on historical examples, including Nazi doctors who ran experiments in concentration camps and the Baltimore hospital, where 70 years ago, cancer cells obtained from Henrietta Lacks, a black mother of five, without her consent.
“The problem with misinformation is that it works best when it’s built around the nucleus of truth. In this case, many communities of color don’t trust the facility because they don’t have the best history with it, ”says Shireen Mitchell, founder of Stop Online Violence Against Women, a skin women’s support group. color is harassed, said. Online.
An experiment conducted in 1943 on nearly 400 Black men in Tuskegee, Ala., Is one of the most studied examples of medical abuse against the Negro community. For more than four decades, scientists have observed men they know have been infected with syphilis, but do not offer treatment so they can study the progression of the disease. When the trial came to light in the 1970s, it was condemned by the medical community as a major violation of ethical standards.
Researchers studying misinformation have tracked Tuskegee mentions on social media over the past year. While Tuskegee has an average of several hundred mentions per week on Facebook and Twitter, there is some spike that coincided with the introduction of the Covid-19 vaccine, according to Zignal Labs, a company specializing in infusion. information.
The last week of November, when the pharmaceutical companies Moderna and Pfizer published promising results in their final studies on the safety of their Covid-19 vaccine, mention of Tuskegee increased. to 7,000 a week.
There was another lull until mid-December, when the Food and Drug Administration announced it had emergency vaccine approval. According to Zignal, mentions of Tuskegee soared to almost 5,000 that week, with some of the most viral tweets calling the coronavirus vaccine the “new Tuskegee study”.
Doctors say they are also battling vaccine hesitancy among other demographic groups. Last month, a NORC survey of the Center for the Study of Public Affairs found that 23% of Republicans said they were “definitely” not vaccinated, while 21% said they “probably” would. not vaccinated with coronavirus.
Native American groups are fighting vaccine concerns in their communities, and doctors have reported that some of their Chinese-American patients have posted articles in the media using The Chinese vaccines are suspected of being produced in the United States.
Many blacks and Hispanics have struggled to make appointments and go to vaccination sites that are often in whiter, richer neighborhoods. And officials in some cities say people from those neighborhoods have also been flooded with vaccination appointment and supply systems for poorer Hispanic and black residents.
Misinformation about who is allowed to receive the vaccine, when it is available and how to check the safety of vaccines is even more difficult, Ms. Mitchell said.
At a mass vaccination site in Oakland Coliseum on a recent Friday afternoon, before 68-year-old Anthony Jones agreed to get vaccinated last month, there was only one last thing he wanted to look up on Facebook. He pulled out his phone and started pressing, waving to his nephew, who had brought him to the appointment.
“I read a few things about a woman who died of this stuff, and I wanted to know if she was Black,” said Mr. Jones, said Mr. Jones, who was a few minutes away. Transfer did not find the Facebook post he was looking for. “You see a lot of things on the internet that make you think, as a Negro, you shouldn’t take this vaccine.”
Mr. Jones finally gave up. When he started making his footage, he remembered the article he had seen on WhatsApp, owned by Facebook, and from a website he didn’t recognize.
“My nephew told me not to believe everything I read on the internet,” he said. “I want to believe my nephew.”
The next day, Daniel Lander, 38, was walking around a neighborhood in San Jose with Armand Mateos, 28. Over the past five months, Mr. Lander has been walking from door to door on a program run by Working Partnerships USA, a community organization. co-management. in Silicon Valley. The team is working with local county officials to help dispel the misinformation about pandemic and vaccines.
“We hear people say they’ve seen this or celebrities share something on Twitter or Instagram making them think a vaccine is a bad idea. People value the opinions of the people they seek, and these celebrities have a lot of influence, ”Mr. Lander said.
When they chatted with Rodriguez, a burly man and an enthusiastic talker, Mr. Lander and Mr. Mateos said they sympathized with his concerns. They said they had many similar questions and explained their decision to self-vaccinate. Mr. Rodriguez asked where they were taken and how it made them feel.
On reflex, Mr. Mateos touched his left arm where he had been vaccinated in recent weeks. It hurts, he says, and he’s not going to cover it with sugar. But he firmly believes that it is safe, and that it will keep him and his loved ones from getting sick.
“They read all of this online, from various news sources, which is hard to understand. But then they met me, as someone who was once shot, and I can give them some real answers, ”said Mr. Mateos. He added that many people cited articles in Spanish from Russian state-backed media networks, Sputnik and Russia Today. “They despise the US vaccines. People read those stories and didn’t want to be shot. “
As the two left, Mr. Rodriguez shouted that he would be shot that week. They made sure he had a phone number and a website to register, and continued down the street.
“I think I’ll get it this weekend,” said Rodriguez. “I made no promises, but I think they convinced me.”