As the vaccination rollout continues, a major obstacle to overcoming vaccine hesitancy remains the skepticism and distrust about the vaccines within latino communities. In a recent column in the LA Times, Jean Guerrero used a personal story involving her family to spotlight the shared distrust that is prevalent within some immigrant groups.
Guerrero wrote how her father, an immigrant from Mexico, had been inundated with misinformation about COVID-19 from social media, and was believing it. He sent her a link to a now-removed YouTube video from a chiropractor who claimed the virus and the media coverage was designed to take away the rights of citizens. In one passage, her emotions over seeing her father being overtaken by the lies and conspiracy theories being circulated were plain to see.
Anyone with relatives who have been trapped in the online rabbit holes that paint COVID as some warped conspiracy theory can certainly relate. And misinformation isn’t just restricted to minority populations. But history has plenty of examples that help illustrate where suspicion and distrust of authorities developed in communities of color.
The Times’ column mentions sterilization efforts of a third of Puerto Rican women between the 1930s and 1970s, as well as thousands of latinos in California. The distrust is virtually ingrained in the DNA of some of those groups. Time may pass, but those painful memories endure.
News & Guts have seen the impact of misinformation in Miami’s Cuban community. The exiles who came to South Florida to escape Castro’s regime have a distrust of government based on experience. They are often easy marks for rampant false reports that are spread on platforms like Facebook. In areas such as Homestead, some Hispanic churches have reportedly labeled the COVID vaccines as “the marks of the devil” and evidence of government control. The Miami Herald’s recent report indicated that these churches and the anti-vaccine messaging has had a negative impact on the South Florida latino community’s trust in the vaccination process. The latino population already is well behind others in vaccination rate, despite the fact that community has been particularly hard-hit by the virus.
According to this report, Hispanics and latinos are nearly twice as likely to get COVID-19 as their white counterparts, four times as likely to get hospitalized by it, and nearly three times as likely as whites to die from COVID.
This is why latino activists have been pushing for greater educational and awareness programs aimed at fighting the misinformation in those communities they say is being spread on Facebook, YouTube, even through family group chats on WhatsApp.
There’s a hashtag campaign called #VacunateYa that fights the misinformation about the virus and the vaccines with facts. But perhaps the most important thing to remember if you have family members who have been tricked and fallen victim to COVID conspiracy theories, is to leave the frustration and condemnation behind, and practice patience and understanding