Misinformation Slows Latino Vaccinations
By Melissa Vela-Williamson, M.A., APR
Since COVID-19 struck the United States, CDC data shows that Hispanics or Latinos have died at more than twice the rate as the white population. Overall, Latinos have been overrepresented in the number of COVID-19 cases in the country across all groups.
Yet, with all the encouragement, the vaccination rate in this community still lags behind others. What’s been discouraging Latinos from getting the vaccine that so many have sought?
The lure of misinformation
If you are familiar with the Hispanic culture or Spanish language, you’ve probably seen the term “chisme,” which means “gossip” in English. No matter the language, people love to swap stories and juicy life updates. As communicators, we know that chisme can spread and be hard to extinguish. Information that is incorrect and salacious seems to be more gossip-like than facts.
So many rumors and incorrect stories coined as misinformation have circulated as we learned about COVID-19 as a society. For many Latinos, information that’s shared peer to peer has the most power. If that information is incorrect, it is likely to still be trusted if the source -— a church leader, direct supervisor, family member or close friend — shares it.
Public health leaders close to the Hispanic culture have recognized this and often use a “promotora” model to share health information. Promotoras are health workers who are often Spanish speakers and are from the communities they work. In essence, they bring resources and valuable information to their neighbors.
As mentioned by CDC’s Public Health Practice, promotoras reach out to “vulnerable, low-income and underserved members of Latino/Hispanic populations” by going door-to-door, visiting churches or nonprofit gathering places. The trust is shared more easily between the health worker and their neighbors/clients as it’s harder to engender trust within the healthcare system itself.
This referral-based model, grounded in listening, is hard to scale but bridges crucial gaps between access and accurate information. Other trusted messengers may be leaders of local organizations close to their Latino community members, which can confuse if they are not sharing factual health information.
Studies have shown that if you convince an influential matriarch like a grandmother or mother, the rest of the family will often follow their lead regarding health matters. Promotoras can more easily connect to these key family stakeholders.
Clearing up misinformation
The encouragement for adults to get vaccinated has been ongoing, but the slower rate of Hispanics getting vaccinated was concerning. When “chisme” is left unaddressed, it can create enough uncertainty to create hesitancy to get the vaccine. What is working to mitigate fear in this community?
Establishing trusted messengers who can provide the following to foster vaccine equity:
• Trustworthy information. Share written, easy-to-interpret bilingual communication that states the safety of the vaccine. According to a nationwide bilingual poll by the Latino Anti-Disinformation Lab, concern about vaccine safety is the top concern for Latinos.
Also include that citizenship papers are not required, vaccinations are guaranteed to be free, and insurance isn’t needed to qualify. Reiterate which age groups are eligible now, when a second shot date is scheduled, and what getting the vaccine can do for them in terms of benefits such as not wearing a mask and protecting their families.
• Increase access. Host more mobile vaccination sites at convenient, frequented locations (libraries, senior centers, schools). Dive deeper into low-income communities to offer pop-ups at smaller sites, or consider door-to-door for the homebound or those lacking transportation.
Listening, answering people’s questions in the language they understand and meeting them where they are, are reasonable steps to combating misinformation.
For more insights on combating misinformation and disinformation, please visit PRSA's Voices4Everyone forum.