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An anti-vaccine film targeted to Black Americans spreads false information

Will Stone, Kaiser Health News on

Published in News & Features

Brooks said he agreed to be in the film because he wanted to provide balance, but after seeing it he regrets doing the interview.

“The crux of the documentary is generally ‘Don’t get vaccinated,'” Brooks told NPR in a recent interview. “There is an understandable concern in the African American community regarding vaccines — however, in the end, my position is you look past those, have an understanding of those and still get vaccinated. … That nuance was not felt or presented in the documentary.”

Kennedy’s group released the film in early March, just as the covid-19 vaccine was becoming widely available to the American public.

“The film basically wants people to recognize this history that leads right into the present, and especially when they’re facing decisions about whether they should take any vaccine, including covid,” said Curtis Cost, one of the film’s co-producers and a longtime anti-vaccine activist.

Cost said the film does not explicitly tell people to refuse the covid vaccine, but it “goes all the way to the present experimentations and bad things have been done by the medical establishment in America and in Africa and other parts of the world.”

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for Children’s Health Defense denied that the film is misinformation and said it contains “peer reviewed science and historical data.”

 

But the movie is “a classic example of the anti-vaccine industry with a highly targeted message using sophisticated marketing techniques and building alliances with affiliate organizations,” said Imran Ahmed, CEO of the nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate, which has extensively researched figures such as Kennedy.

“They’ve seen the opportunity to target a specifically African American audience,” he said, during a particular moment of heightened national attention on racial injustices and health disparities.

Black Americans have twice the risk of dying of COVID-19 compared with white Americans. Racial disparities in vaccination uptake persist across the United States.

While there are efforts to improve access to the vaccine, media coverage has also focused heavily on historical reasons for vaccine skepticism — too much, some scholars argue, when the focus should be on how Black Americans experience the impact of systemic racism in health care today — and how to fix those problems and improve trust.

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