The Fight Against Misinformation During a Global Pandemic
In January, President Joe Biden announced his “American Rescue Plan” which included hiring 100,000 Community Health Workers (CHWs) to support vaccine outreach and contact tracing. Like the President, the leadership in San Bernardino saw the importance of CHWs in the fight against COVID-19.
Community Health Workers/Promotores de Salud (CHWs/Ps) from El Sol Neighborhood Educational Center (El Sol) have been actively working in the most vulnerable and hard-hit areas in the county. They are going neighborhood to neighborhood offering outreach, education, and referrals to social services, testing, and vaccination sites. Currently, the biggest barrier local CHWs/Ps are facing is misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine.
Concerns from the Community
In a recent focus group report titled Community Perceptions about the COVID-19 Vaccine and Distribution Strategy, El Sol found that San Bernardino residents are concerned about the effect the vaccine will have on comorbidities, the cost of the vaccine, and accessibility to a vaccine. In addition, they worry that the vaccine was rushed into production.
In general, all concerns about the vaccine need to be taken seriously. Erika Marroquin, a Community Health Worker/Promotora from El Sol, shared that when she canvasses a neighborhood, she first listens to residents’ concerns and recognizes their feelings, before starting a conversation about the facts and benefits of a COVID-19 vaccine. However, Erika notes that the most compelling information are testimonials from people who have already received both doses. Therefore, when a community member seems hesitant, she shares her own experience allowing for trust and confidence to be built.
Support for Community Health Workers
Natanael Chavez, the lead CHW/P from the Adelanto COVID-19 Vaccination Clinic, stated “we cannot force people to receive a vaccine, but we can do everything in our power to guide and inform them about the benefits.” When asked what additional resources do CHWs/Ps need to fight misinformation, Natanael highlighted the importance of having large printed material. For example, he recommends having large banners with facts about the vaccine be visible during tabling events around the community.
More importantly, Natanael advocates for educational workshops to be available for Community Health Workers/Promotores on how to respond to common fears about the vaccine and how the vaccine affects people with diabetes, high blood pressure, and other prevalent diseases in the communities they serve.
If this past year has shown us something, it is that our biggest weapon against COVID-19 is not a vaccine but rather it is accurate, factual information. And CHWs/Ps are our most trusted channels of communication in the community, so it is in our best interest to work together and support them in their efforts against misinformation during this global pandemic.