Since the pandemic began, Documented has been using WhatsApp to provide Latino immigrant New Yorkers with critical information about changes in immigration regulations, access to food and health care, fake news spreading via messaging apps and the latest on rent relief and evictions. Some of our users expressed fear regarding taking the COVID-19 vaccine, so we decided to ask members of our WhatsApp community.
Documented spoke with more than 50 of our community members. Of them, fewer than half (43.8%) of our respondents said they would take the vaccine immediately. A quarter of the respondents said they wouldn’t take the vaccine and 31.3% said they would maybe take it.
Misinformation At The Heart of Concerns Related To The Vaccine
The neighborhoods where many immigrants live have been some of the hardest hit by the pandemic. Many of the industries providing essential work have predominantly immigrant workforces. Tasked with responding to the pandemic, immigrants have also been subject to a year of inconsistent messaging and instructions related to the COVID-19 safety.
At the beginning of the pandemic, many members of our WhatsApp community asked Documented how safe it was to seek help should they feel symptoms of COVID-19. However, after nine months, the worries of the community seem to lie not with immigration enforcement, but rather their health and wellbeing.
While respondents did mention fears of documentation status and privacy, more than 63% of the respondents voiced concerns around the safety, side effects and effectiveness of the vaccine. Moreover, misinformation on COVID-19, its origins, danger and cure has led to a general sense of distrust of the vaccine among the people interviewed.
One respondent worried the vaccine was an experiment not thoroughly researched. Another asked about the effectiveness of the vaccine on non-white people. A few respondents called for more transparency — one person asked for details on the manufacturer, such as previous products made and lawsuits filed against them as well as the logistics of distribution. The responses showed, if anything, overall skepticism towards the vaccine and the government behind distributing it.
“Is the vaccine exactly the same for everyone or will it affect the rich and the government differently? Fear is present and justified when we have had a government so racist that we believe that it could kill us,” wrote one respondent.
Another person simply asked about the ‘truthfulness’ of the vaccine’s efficiency. Similarly, someone else asked if the vaccine was nothing more than a way for the government to reassure the public while also testing the vaccine before they have to take it themselves.
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Not Only Latinos Fear the COVID Vaccine
In the past two months, however, polls have found that there has been an increase in Americans willing to take the vaccine. Since September, the percentage of non-white adults willing to take the vaccine rose 8 percentage points, from 40% to 48%, and for white adults, from 54% to 61%. Across races, a ‘rushed timeline’, followed by ‘safety’ were the top concerns.
A history of inadequate health care for black and brown communities has led many, including Documented survey’s respondents, to question the intentions, validity and equitability of a COVID-19 vaccine. COVID-19 did not affect all communities equally. Black and Latino populations are 2.8 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than white populations. It follows then, that respondents are apprehensive about a vaccine that could have similarly unequal implications.
The skepticism around taking the vaccine creates a unique challenge for the government as the vast majority of people need to be vaccinated in order to end the pandemic. It appears that public information campaigns to instill confidence in the vaccine have, so far, not resonated.