Updated: May 22
Over 500,000 lives have been lost due to Covid-19, which has disproportionally affected communities of color. According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), among the over 90% of people who died from this virus, the percent of Latino, non-Hispanic Black, and non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native people is higher than the percent of their population within the U.S. (see graph below). Despite these statistics, many of these groups made up only a small percentage of the 13 million people that got the first dose of the vaccine.
This graph is from CDC website on,"COVID-19 Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities."
There are many factors that contribute to the inaccessibility of the vaccine, which include lack of proper transportation, internet, or healthcare facilities—especially in more rural areas. Racial minority groups, in particular, are not only vulnerable in contracting the virus but are also susceptible to the spread of misinformation that target and stem from the centuries of distrust and mistreatment experienced by these BIPOC (Black, indigenous, and people of color).
In a panel discussion by PEN America, an organization that centers freedom of speech, experts address the common misconceptions and myths that fuel this hesitancy to trust it. Below are 9 common concerns/questions regarding the vaccine and the myths associated with it.
1. Will the vaccine give me the virus? Should I wait to take it?
No, the vaccine is not dangerous and will not give you the Covid-19 virus. All three vaccines—Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson&Johnson—are safe with only temporary side effects which include headaches, fatigue, and/or arm pain. This is normal and signals that your immune system is building a response to fight off the virus if ever in contact with it.
The benefits of the vaccine outweigh the small risk of side effects and waiting on taking it will increase the chance of another surge of cases.
2. Does the vaccine cause infertility?
This myth is especially harmful since there is already a level of mistrust between women of color and the medical department. Historically, Latina, Black, and Native women have been subjected to forced sterilization and, particularly Puerto Rican women, were used as “Guinea pigs” to test the first round of birth control pills. This is still prevalent today, as mentioned in the Pen America panel, they stated how ICE (Immigration Customs Enforcement) centers have been accused of giving out hysterectomies to vulnerable immigrant women. They also emphasis how Black women are disproportionally undertreated by medical doctors compared to white women, having a higher chance of pregnancy related deaths.
So, the growing inhibition to risk infertility by taking this vaccine is justifiable; however, the argument is invalid and is taken out of context. Claims that the vaccine causes infertility came from an unnamed source that stemmed from an unrelated study in 1989. According to Britannica, this research looked at infertility vaccines on baboons to discuss future treatment for human cancer patients who are affected by fertility hormones. COVID-19 vaccine candidates were NOT gender-specific or related in any way to fertility.
3. Why should I trust it?
There are multiple similar rumors being spread, which fuels the spread of misinformation and affirms the distrust that already exists. The Tuskegee study is commonly associated with the hesitancies to take the vaccine. Around the 1930s Black men in Tuskegee Alabama were enrolled in an experiment to examine the effects of untreated syphilis. This has contributed to the small percent of Black people getting vaccinated, according to the Wall Street Journal, Tuskegee has the highest number of unvaccinated people in the U.S. However, these hesitancies are not solely based on the Tuskegee study; these disparities still exist today and much of the distrust is based on the health inequities affecting Black people and other racial racial groups of BIPOC.
The FDA (Food and drug admiration) have approved of the COVID-19 vaccine and have gone through various trials by thousands of participants before they can even be authorized. So, it is important for community leaders to transfer this information and reinforce that trust to prevent vulnerable communities, like Tuskegee, from falling victim to the health disparities they have originally—and currently—been subjected to.
4. Is one vaccine more effective than the others? If it is effective, why do we still have to wear a mask?
ALL COVID-19 vaccines are effective, there is no preference of which one to take—the objective is to get everyone vaccinated and to take whichever one is available to you. According to the CDC: the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was 95% effective in a study involving about 43,000 people; the Moderna vaccine was 94% effective in a study involving more than 30,000 people; the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine was 85% effective in preventing severe COVID-19 in a study involving more than 44,000 people.
However, there is no certainty for 100% protection so following guidelines is vital since it may take time for your immune system respond to the vaccine and properly build up a defense to the virus, especially amongst any variants.
5. If the virus is prone to mutation, why should I take it?
While it is true that the COVID-19 virus is prone to mutations, the World Health Organization, has said in a press conference that the virus, which causes COVID-19, tends to change more slowly than others such as HIV or influenza viruses. They emphasize that the, “bottom line,” is to suppress the transmission of the virus as quickly as possible; the more we allow it to spread, the more opportunity it has to change.
6. Where can I get vaccinated? Who qualifies (does it include those that are undocumented)?
Locations and qualifications can be found by the Vaccine Finder, which is linked in the CDC website. Payment, insurance, or citizenship is not required to take the vaccine. Some of the money in President Biden’s $1.9 trillion dollar stimulus plan is expected to go towards ensuring that anyone can get access regardless of citizenship status. Addressing the fear of deportation, the CDC and U.S Department of Health and Human Services has made it clear that any personal data collected would only be used for public health purposes only.
7. Should I take it if I don’t have any underlying conditions or if I’m not at risk for complications with COVID-19?
Yes, based on recommendation by the CDC, those who a have recovered from the virus should still take the vaccine because it is possible—although rare—that you could be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 again.
8. If I am pregnant, should I take the vaccine? This decision is strongly encouraged by the CDC to be discussed with a healthcare professional, but they say that it is unlikely to pose a risk based on how COVID-19 vaccines work. However, the vaccine has not been studied widely on pregnant people, so there is a lack of data on the safety of the vaccine. Clinical trials are currently in the process to evaluate the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines in pregnant people.
Every community is unique with different fears and concerns about the vaccine. It is vital to increase transparency of the truth while also recognizing the reasons for their distrust and certain vulnerabilities. Here are some recommendations to become aware of misinformation in media and to become more informed as a community that is empowered by science/facts:
● Think before reposting, make sure to fact-check your sources
● Avoid group chats and pages on social media, such as what’s-app, that act as self-serving platforms that reaffirms personal biases.
● Talk to a healthcare professional, they will be the best source to address your concerns about the vaccine
● Join community leaders with medial officials to develop transparency and trust
● Be alert and listen to the CDC recommendations and updates
● Connect news outlets with community leaders to increase representation in the media that communicates to their specific concerns and hesitancies
● Consider the context behind any meme or photo; research and reverse-image search.
For more information and aid on how to empower your community to stop the spread of misinformation, check out the training program offered by PEN America. Also, their guide to stop recognize disinformation can be seen here: https://pen.org/pen-america-guide-covid-19-disinformation/ For more facts about COVID-19 visit: https://www.cdc.gov.