Dispelling fears and combating misinformation should be a top priority for states in their COVID-19 vaccination process

By Evelyn Ratnakumar

Vaccine hesitancy, opposition, and often justifiable fears surrounding vaccines have existed since Edward Jenner introduced the smallpox vaccination. Here’s why states need to act on them right away in order to put COVID-19 permanently behind us.

CNN’s Brianna Keilar called misinformation “a virus unto itself”. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have all seen just how dangerous misinformation can be, often percolating to vulnerable communities already at great risk.

The very nature of social media has resulted in plenty of incorrect and potentially life-threatening information floating around--in our inboxes, in our chats, in our communities. Take Instagram, for example. USA Today cites the research by the Center for Countering Digital Hate, which was able to capture how easy it is to be exposed to misformation and hoaxes on the social platform. The nonprofit states that Instagram suggested anti-vaccination posts to volunteers who set up accounts and showed an interest in conspiracy theories.

"COVID-19 is a hoax" and "vaccines are unsafe" are some of the 104 misleading statements from the suggested posts of this research, co-published by youth organization Restless Development.

A virus spread by the internet

Similarly, Facebook competitor Twitter has been battling its own demons as well. Due to the flurry of tweets spreading false information during the pandemic, the social media company took serious steps to ensure its users aren’t exposed to hoaxes and conspiracy theories that cause setbacks to the vaccination process across the world. User-generated video platform YouTube too had to pull down 30,000 misleading anti-vax videos off its site as well.

Due to the reach of the internet, conspiracy theories generally abound but unlike the time when we were all trying to figure out if Jay-Z was part of the Illuminati, the false information spread about COVID-19 vaccination can cause long-term damage to communities.

Research has shown that conspiracy theories have been shaping people's perceptions of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The troubling history of anti-vaccination movements

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) named vaccination as one of the top 10 greatest public health achievements of the 20th century. But it is one of the most contested scientific practices of our lifetime. From smallpox to measles, the anti-vaxx movement has had a long and troubling history in disrupting public health achievements that could save lives. But some of the fears were not unfounded.

Historically, mandates have led to discriminatory vaccination practices and have helped crystallize the anti-vaccination movement. There are disturbing accounts of ethnic minorities being vaccinated at gunpoint, or medically vulnerable populations being forcibly given experimental concoctions. In 1929, in Lübeck, Germany, a contaminated batch of the BCG vaccine for tuberculosis led to the deaths of 72 babies and the resurgence of anti-vaccine sentiment.

But, we have come a long way from experimental and non-Constitutional administration of vaccines and the only way to overcome the philosophical arguments, political rhetoric, and spiritual misgivings against COVID-19 vaccine is by putting out timely, accurate, and verified information to citizens and help them make informed decisions that will save their communities from further illness and deaths.

Dispelling fear and disinformation for minorities

Black and Hispanic communities are grappling with the repercussions of false information around COVID-19 vaccine. Their numbers are lagging behind white communities, the New York Times stated, as they have been the worst victims of rumours, conspiracy theories, and misleading news reports on social media and private online messaging platforms.

Some people are led to believe that these codes are meant to target minorities in experimental vaccination drives, a rumour that is couched in historical medical mistreatments of the Black community in the US.

In 1932, 400 Black men from Tuskegee, Alabama infected with syphilis were part of an experiment where they were observed over four decades without being administered any medication so that they could study the disease’s progression.

The consequences of such experiments coupled with other anti-vaccination sentiments and conspiracy theories have led to the vaccination rate for Black Americans to be half that of white people, while the gap for Hispanic people is even larger.

What states need to do

States also need to deal with the fallout of ineffective communication about key information regarding the vaccination process.

They were not aware that the US government is paying for the vaccine, making it free at the point of service to all US residents. This is a direct result of a failure in communication of critical information to the public.

To combat such rumors for American citizens and dispel fears of minorities in the US, states need to take seriously the importance of disseminating factually correct information to the public.

As vaccine drives are ramped up across the country, the only way to ensure demand meets supply is for the states to invest in a platform that puts out verified information about the COVID-19 vaccination.

Providing timely information is crucial to ensure the success of the COVID-19 vaccine distribution process. Cardinality’s vaccine management system uses a people-centric approach to ensure maximum civic engagement with the vaccine drives across America. The platform enables states to host videos and other vaccine-related content that will help all residents to learn more about the process.

It is only by dispelling the darkness of ignorance and misinformation can we ensure vaccine uptake, which will result in herd immunity and help put COVID-19 behind us permanently.

Schedule a demo with us to learn more about how you can facilitate the right vaccine information for your constituents and encourage them to get their shots in time.