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COVID-19 vaccine efforts in immigrant communities include debunking rumors

Paradise Afshar, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in News & Features

ATLANTA — Misinformation about COVID-19 has been spreading since the onset of the pandemic — and the immigrant community has been inundated with false narratives about the virus and the vaccines to treat it.

Social media channels, such as WhatsApp and Facebook, have become breeding grounds for inaccuracies, as memes, fake news articles and fabricated posts are easily spread. A 2018 study out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found fake news stories about 70% more likely to be retweeted on Twitter than true stories.

Health care providers are trying to combat the waves of misinformation through campaigns like the World Health Organization’s EPI-WIN initiative, which is designed to produce easy-to-understand graphics about the pandemic. Locally, health care systems throughout metro Atlanta are combating misinformation with community outreach programs and educational campaigns available in multiple languages.

“There’s a lot of mistrust,” Diana Ptacek, a medical interpreter at Northside Hospital in Atlanta, said. “We try to educate people when they come in and ask them if they’ve been vaccinated. We talk when they’re here, and especially to the Latin community because they were hit hard with COVID. We did a video in Spanish to play for patients in waiting rooms.”

Northside is also working on a separate video about myths surrounding the vaccine.

Ptacek said Northside’s mission is to provide patients with answers to their COVID-19 vaccine questions and debunk rumors by reminding them that all vaccinations are free of charge — even for those without insurance — that the vaccine doesn’t contain any traces of a live virus, the vaccine doesn’t alter DNA, and proof of U.S. citizenship is not required in order to receive one.


This information is critical to immigrant communities because people of color have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. For example, Latinos are about twice as likely to contract COVID-19 and die from it when compared to their white counterparts, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Judith Miller, a professor of history at Emory University, says getting ahead of the misinformation, or “pre-bunking” information, is the key because once lies begin to spread online, it’s often too late to change the minds of those who’ve been convinced.

“Even if someone is clinging to fake news and has a friend or family member who is trying to persuade them that something they believe is false,” Miller said, “often that just makes that boundary harder and the person who lives the fake news retreats even farther.”


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