How to Reach the Unvaccinated: To counter online misinformation, it helps to knock on doors.

Of note, likely similar in Canada:

What does it take to get credible information about the coronavirus vaccine, and the vaccines themselves, to more people?

My colleague Sheera Frenkel spoke to experts and followed a community group as it went door to door in an ethnically diverse neighborhood in Northern California to understand the reasons behind the low vaccination rates for Black and Hispanic Americanscompared with non-Hispanic white people.

What Sheera found, as she detailed in an article on Wednesday, was how online vaccine myths reinforce people’s fears and the ways that personal outreach and easier access to doses can make a big difference.

Shira: What surprised you from your reporting?

Sheera: One question I was trying to answer was whether the incorrect narratives floating around online about the vaccines — that they change people’s DNA or are a means of government control — were reaching Black and Hispanic communities and other people of color in the real world. I heard false information like that firsthand. It was eye opening.

The other surprise was how effective it was for someone to stand on a person’s doorstep and talk about their own experience getting a coronavirus vaccine and answer questions. The outreach group talked to each household for half an hour or longer sometimes. That may make more of a difference than any online health campaign ever could.

But it’s laborious to go door to door. Can reliable information ever travel as far and fast as misinformation?

Internet platforms amplify misinformation, and countering it isn’t simple. It takes more than a celebrity posting a vaccine selfie on Instagram.

Are we overstating the impact of vaccine hesitancy? The pediatrician Rhea Boyd recently wrote in our Opinion section that the primary barrier to Covid-19 vaccinations among Black Americans is a lack of access, not wariness about getting the shot.

It’s both.

Two things struck me from my reporting. First, false vaccine information is persuasive because it builds on something that people know to be true: The medical community has mistreatedpeople of color, and the bias continues. And second, vaccine hesitancy is different in each community.

That makes reaching Black Americans different than reaching new immigrants who are reading articles in Vietnamese or Chinese that make them concerned about vaccine safety. It’s an opportunity for community leaders to address what’s keeping people who trust them from getting vaccinated.YOUR CORONAVIRUS TRACKER: We’ll send you the latest data for places you care about each day.Sign Up

You’ve written about Russian propaganda in Latin America that fanned concerns about European and American coronavirus vaccines. Is that also reaching people in the United States?

Yes. Two Russian state-backed media networks, Sputnik and Russia Today, have among the most popular Spanish-language Facebook pages in the world. Their news reaches Spanish speakers in the United States.

I heard people ask in my reporting, Why should they get an American vaccine when the Russian one is better? (Those articles tend to cite real statistics but in misleading contexts.) I asked one man I met, George Rodriguez, where he had read that, and we figured out that it was from one of those Russian news sites.

What has been effective at increasing the coronavirus vaccination rates among Black and Latino Americans?

It seems effective to hold walk-in vaccination clinics. People can show up, ask questions they have and get a shot.

What about Republicans? Surveysshow that they are among the wariest Americans about coronavirus vaccines.

There have been concerns among some Republicans that people will be forced to get vaccinated, but that isn’t happening. 

It’s clear that among Republicans and other groups with vaccine hesitancy, once we know more people who are getting vaccinated, we’re more willing to do it, too.

How do you see this moving forward?

In just the last few weeks, I’ve gotten more optimistic about closing the vaccination gap. There have been huge strides in reaching people, getting those walk-in vaccination clinics open or taking vaccines to people, and addressing people’s concerns.


About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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