The moment was finally here! I was eligible to get vaccinated against COVID-19, and I was ecstatic. The opportunity to feel some safety against the virus and gain some sort of normalcy was within reach. It has been more than a year since the pandemic started and we all have witnessed the loss of life, long-term health consequences and the economic impact this pandemic has had on all of us. Now we are fortunate to have some sort of relief with the vaccines.
I called my family back in Mexico to tell them about the vaccine and I was surprised to find out that some of my relatives are not only not considering get vaccinated, but are absolutely opposed to it and trying to convince me not to get it.
So, I began to wonder if this was a shared sentiment among Latinos in Iowa too, and possibly within other communities of color. Beyond my relatives, many people do not trust these vaccines, because they do not trust the process and do not trust the government.
At a time when we can have all the information, the internet can be a blessing but also a curse. It can spread as much truth as it can spread misinformation.
I extended my inquiry about the vaccine in social media and proceeded to ask folks if they had decided to get vaccinated. Many who are opposed to it and had told me in private were too shy or did not want to feel judged, but others were open about why they would not get vaccinated. One person stood out.
Natalie Flores of Des Moines told me, “Not only has the vaccine barely been made and just because they ‘tried’ it on many people – which those numbers can be manipulated to send out vaccine faster – but big pharma is more concerned about money, not the actual health of the people. Any medication or vaccine that has not had extensive medical research is not safe. Unless they knew this outbreak would happen and they have been making a vaccine years ago.”
She also questioned whether there would be side effects several years down the road that simply weren’t known yet.
Natalie is not alone — others responded and shared their reasons with me in private, but all these questions and doubts are about the same.
I turned to Dr. Rossana Rosa, MD, a local expert and leader in Iowa on the issue and an infectious disease specialist at Unity Point Clinic, to shed scientific light on the issue of distrust.
“I believe the reasons vary depending on the community we are talking about, but they are important. There is mistrust and misinformation,” she said. “In the African American community there’s so much mistrust based on so many years of abuse and racism from the medical community. I believe in the Latino community the mistrust is coming from the immigration standpoint, concern with if the government is watching the vaccinations centers, if it’s a handout from the government, if they ask for papers, etc.”
She added that there is a lot of misinformation in social media in this country and in Latin American countries. Her belief is that the solution to this problem is not to judge and have an open mind and ask individuals: what questions do you have? What are your concerns? And always respond with honesty.
I asked Dr. Rosa what she would tell those who have questions or who do not trust the vaccines and she indicated, and she listed the following:
1. The fundamental science behind these vaccines has been studied for over ten years, then applied to this specific virus.
2. The scientific studies on which the approval of the vaccines was based were very rigorous and included tens of thousands of people to test their efficacy and safety.
3. COVID cannot be contracted through the vaccine; there is no live virus in the vaccine.
4. More than 150 million people have been vaccinated in the U.S. and its safety and efficacy have been demonstrated in the real world.
5. The vaccine is free; no documents are needed to receive the vaccine.
It is important for all of us to understand that there is so much misinformation in social media that makes people question what is true or and what is not.
Let us not forget the proven and documented fact that the African American community has been used for medical experimentation in the past, therefore the medical institutions need to find ways to reach out to these communities and earn the trust in order to overcome this virus.
We must also remember that people of color have been disproportionally impacted by the Coronavirus and accessible information is absolutely necessary for us to curtail the spread and reach herd immunity.
On my part, I had my first shot a few days ago and I can’t wait to get my second shot. Let’s all do what we can to go back to “normal” as soon as possible.
by Claudia Thrane
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