Breanna Reeves |
This report is part of a nation-wide focus on Wednesday August 18, 2021 in partnership with the Boston Globe, to comprehensively debunk myths about vaccines and identify other barriers to vaccination in communities across the country.
California has experienced a surge in COVID-19 cases since reopening with new variants like Delta and Lambda emerging. The Delta variant is twice as contagious as the initial COVID-19 strain and has rapidly spread throughout the state.
The state continues to roll out vaccination initiatives under Governor Newsom’s “California Roars Back” campaign, including implementing vaccination and testing requirements for teachers and school staff as well as state employees and health care workers.
“We are now dealing with a pandemic of the unvaccinated, and it’s going to take renewed efforts to protect Californians from the dangerous Delta variant,” said Governor Gavin Newsom in a press release. “As the state’s largest employer, we are leading by example and requiring all state and health care workers to show proof of vaccination or be tested regularly, and we are encouraging local governments and businesses to do the same. Vaccines are safe – they protect our family, those who truly can’t get vaccinated, our children and our economy. Vaccines are the way we end this pandemic.”
Newsom’s state-wide mandate for employees in the health care sector requires employees to be fully vaccinated or receive their second dose by September 30, 2021. This order received push back from some hospital personnel and health care workers who oppose being required to get vaccinated, citing it violates their civil liberties.
Demonstrations outside of hospitals were held throughout Southern California on August 9 following the mandate. Nurses and hospital staff protested outside of Riverside Community Hospital and Children’s Health Orange County in the city of Orange.
Vaccine Misinformation and Disinformation
With vaccination orders put in place throughout the state, anti-vaccination sentiments continue to grow and misinformation regarding the legitimacy of vaccinations continues to spread.
“I think the real issue is that you have a segment of the population that is spreading information that is incorrect. In some cases, (there) may be a misunderstanding or something about the information,” said Jose Arballo Jr., Senior Public Information Specialist at Riverside University Health System Public Health (RUHS). “In other cases, there’s a specific goal to get in the way of people getting vaccinated by providing misinformation and bad information. I don’t know what would motivate somebody to try to purposely put out bad information.”
Misinformation is defined as “incorrect or misleading information,” while disinformation is defined as “false information deliberately and often covertly spread (as by the planting of rumors) in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth,” according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
There are a variety of different sources and motivations for spreading misinformation, according to Richard M. Carpiano who is a medical sociologist and public and population health scientist, as well as a professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Riverside.
Carpiano explained that one of the many reasons that anti-vaccine or “vaccine hesitancy” exists and spreads quickly is because the U.S. has never really experienced a major epidemic quite like the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, the internet and social media have been instrumental in the spread and propagation of misinformation and disinformation.
“We’re also in a situation where a lot of people don’t get their information from going on just the regular sort of mainstream news or returning to experts. Sadly, I guess it’s one of the great tragedies of the internet,” Carpiano said.
“And when it comes down to things related to COVID, and social media certainly has a role with this, too, is people are not seeking out the expert sources, but really relying on information that sort of circulates within their own social networks. We’re now at a period of very partisan types of news outlets, in new sources and a hyper-politicizing of science,” Carpiano explained.
Last week Twitter suspended Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s account for one week after she violated the social media platform’s COVID-19 Misleading Information Policy. Greene’s account has been previously suspended numerous times for sharing misinformation about COVID and vaccines. This most recent suspension was a result of her tweeting false information such as the vaccines were “failing” and that they were ineffective.
“With all the misinformation that’s out there and the disinformation and propaganda that’s even been pushed by elected officials, and mistruths, it’s completely understandable why we see the problems that we’re seeing here in terms of vaccination uptake,” said Carpiano. “The proverbial well has been just so polluted.”
Greene is one of many public figures who have been spouting incorrect information regarding vaccines. Social media platforms have updated their information policies in order to mitigate the spread of misinformation and disinformation online.
Understanding Vaccine Hesitancy and Concerns
Public health officials across the state have partnered with community liaisons in order to help keep communities informed and educated on COVID-19 and vaccinations. RUHS works with the Black Chamber of Commerce and the Catholic Church in order to reach communities of color. They are also working on a partnership with local barbershops.
As of August 2, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 38 percent of Black people in the U.S., 43 percent of Latinos, and 66 percent of Asian Americans (not including Native Hawaiian/ Other Pacific Islander demographics) have received a vaccine compared to 49 percent of White people.
Vaccination disparities among people of color stem from several different social determinants including lack of transportation to vaccination sites, lack of access to factual information, cultural and language barriers, the ability to take time off work and childcare services. Vaccine hesitancy also plays a role in the disparities given the historical context surrounding medical mistrust such as the Tuskegee syphilis experiment and other examples of medical experimentation.
“It’s very easy to, I think, to judge individuals for not getting vaccinated, but I really do see a lot of these individuals as being victims of misinformation and very disturbing sorts of acts by people who are promoting that kind of misinformation,” said Carpiano. “But the vast majority of people who fall in the vaccine hesitancy spectrum are people who have legitimate questions.”
Carpiano believes that it will take all sectors, not just the public health sector, in order to increase vaccinations and reduce COVID transmission and death rates. He explained that “convenience is going to be key” in getting as many people as possible vaccinated and providing greater messaging around vaccinations.
“The one message that we really have been pushing lately is to simply ask your doctor, ask your pediatrician, make an informed decision. So, that’s what we’re trying to do by working with our community partners,” Arballo said. “They’re more trusted in the community. So maybe if they say some of the things that we’re trying to say, they’ll be more trusted than we are as public health, which is fine with us.”
Addressing COVID Vaccine Misinformation
The CDC outlined strategies for addressing COVID-19 vaccine misinformation which begins with understanding how the misinformation got started and when and knowing how and why it spread.
When addressing misinformation, the CDC recommends:
- Hear what’s being said and analyze the misinformation that’s spreading through social and traditional media.
- Engage and dialogue with your community to understand different perspectives, lack of information, perspectives and misinformation.
- Share accurate and factual information that is easy to access and that addresses common concerns about vaccinations. Share this information online and offline.
- Use “trusted messengers” to give credibility to the information you are sharing such as community organizations or religious leaders.
Arballo explained that misinformation gets in the way of public health and protecting one another from getting the virus.
“The best way to protect someone (and) yourself from getting the virus or the variants is to get a vaccine,” said Arballo. “So anything that gets in the way of getting everybody or as many people vaccinated as possible, is a real concern.”
Breanna Reeves is a reporter in Riverside, California, and uses data-driven reporting to cover issues that affect the lives of Black Californians. Breanna joins Black Voice News as a Report for America Corps member. Previously, Breanna reported on activism and social inequality in San Francisco and Los Angeles, her hometown. Breanna graduated from San Francisco State University with a bachelor’s degree in Print & Online Journalism. She received her master’s degree in Politics and Communication from the London School of Economics. Contact Breanna with tips, comments or concerns at firstname.lastname@example.org or via twitter @_breereeves.