ULG's Language Services Blog

How to Tackle COVID-19 Vaccine Misinformation

As states like Alaska, Mississippi, and Arizona begin opening up appointments for all individuals 16 and older, it seems like “normal” may return sometime in the near future. Yet, for as many people who are anxiously refreshing health portals or scouring clinic sites, there are just as many saying, “The vaccine is too new. I’m not going to get it.”  

 In February 2020, the World Health Organization coined the term “infodemic.” It refers to “an excessive amount of information about a problem, which makes it difficult to identify a solution.”   

This is what many Americans are feeling at the moment. When information and news claw their way into their lives from every direction, it can be difficult to find an accurate and unbiased source. The internet is no longer just a place for finding and sharing important information – it is also a place for misinformation.  

What is misinformation?  

Since COVID-19 began, information has been widely and sometimes incorrectly spread. It has created distrust in public health authorities, and it is now creating misinformation and distrust about the COVID-19 vaccine. Misinformation occurs when source information is distorted due to misunderstanding, fear, and subsequent miscommunication.   

The idea of “source information” is key in understanding how misinformation has impacted all communities during the pandemic. Source information can sometimes be poorly translated into a different language and culminate in key concepts being misinterpreted, taken out of context, or lost altogether.  

When this happens, the original message of the source information is gone. What one person read in one language is different than what another person read in another. COVID-specific terminology has perpetuated this issue because not every language has equivalent vocabulary or translations. This can make it even more difficult to ensure that everyone has the same information.  

Overall, misinformation is a common issue among the LEP (Limited English Proficiency) communities as they may be consuming and sharing content that is improperly translated. Even a small translation error can escalate and eventually take on a new meaning. Furthermore, when coupled with people’s valid concerns, religious, political, and cultural beliefs, or prejudices, information can create a real dilemma for individuals on the fence about getting vaccinated.  

Does misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine matter? 

The short answer is yesWhile you may say, “Why does this matter? Anyone who wants the vaccine should get it, and anyone who doesn’t want it shouldn’t, it simply doesn’t (or at least, shouldn’t) work like that.  

The ideal solution would be that everyone could opt-in or out based on whatever they’re feeling. Unfortunately, the misperception and hesitancy about the vaccine could ultimately prolong the pandemic and make it difficult to achieve herd immunity.  

Herd immunity, also known as population immunity, is indirect protection from an infectious disease. This occurs when the population is either immune through vaccination or from prior infection. The World Health Organization supports achieving herd immunity through vaccination ---- not by simply letting the disease spread until everyone has had it. This would not only have disastrous effects on our healthcare system but would also result in unnecessary cases and deaths.  

So in short, the faster everyone gets vaccinated, the faster society achieves herd immunity, and the faster your life returns to pre-pandemic “normal.”  

How can you tackle misinformation?  

Do you remember the game “telephone” that you used to play as a child? The one where you’d stand in a line and the first person would whisper something to the second person. The second person would whisper whatever they heard to the third person, and so on until you reached the end of the line. Often, because you were only whispering whatever you heard 

Misinformation is like that…but working backward. To address it, you must begin by identifying the source. This could be a trusted friend or family member, social media, or the news. You may have noticed that Facebook and Instagram are working to dispel misinformation by linking any posts that are COVID-19-related directly to the CDC website.  

All of this comes down to the fact that the people disseminating information aren’t trusted messengers. In many cases, they may be well-meaning, but that doesn’t mean they’re well-informed.  

To stop misinformation, especially to vulnerable communities, you can take the following actions. 

     1. Report and de-platform misinformation 

You’ve probably seen “COVID-19 Vaccine Myths” either on Facebook or Instagram. While the purpose of these posts is to highlight incorrect information, they still often share misinformation and give it a platform it wouldn’t otherwise have. Choose instead to only share correct information, and report misinformation when you see it. You may also engage with others when you’ve identified misinformation and actively respond with credible information.  

Over time, continuous exposure to correct statistics, data, and evidence can help to reduce and eliminate concerns stemming from misinformation. Keep at it! 

     2. Engage with and validate individuals who have questions and concerns 

While vaccination will ultimately benefit everyone through herd immunity, it’s still valid to have concerns and want to learn more. Thus, it’s essential to engage with and validate the concerns, especially those of communities of color, LEP communities, and vulnerable groups. It’s not a clear delineation of pro-vaccination versus anti-vaxxers. It’s a more nuanced spectrum where people bring their experiences to the table, and these aren’t always pleasant experiences.   

This article details the history of medical testing that experts say contributed to the systematic distrust of the medical system for Black Americans. The community’s negative experiences are carrying over into whether they’ll opt to receive the vaccine when it’s available to them.  

This survey by the Public Policy Institute of California received the following response when they asked different groups whether they would “definitely” or “probably” get a COVID-19 vaccine.  

  • Asian – 70%   
  • White – 60% 
  • Latino – 54%
  • Black – 29% 

This distrust of the medical system is also clear in statistics like those of the Kaiser Family Foundation. They found that 43of Black Americans wanted to “wait and see” before receiving the vaccine compared to 26of White Americans.  

The CDC data reflects much of the same. As of March 15, 2021, the CDC reported that race/ethnicity was known for just over half (53%) of people who had received at least one dose of the vaccine. Among this group, 66 percent were White9% were Hispanic, 8% were Black, 5% were Asian, 2% were American Indian or Alaska Native, and <1% were Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander. Additionally, 11% reported multiple or other race. Furthermore, White people have a higher vaccination rate compared to both Black (19% v. 11%) and Hispanic individuals (19% v. 9%) 

Overall, the statistics reflect the uncertainty in these communities. Take time to answer questions with empathy and remember why they’re unsure. The historical context of their mistrust sheds light on why additional support on this topic is necessary.  

     3. Use trusted groups and influencers who work at the grass-roots level 

This Reuters study notes the types, sources, and claims of COVID-19 misinformation. Perhaps unsurprisingly, top-down information from politicians, celebrities, and other prominent public figures made up just 20 percent of all claims in their sample but accounted for 69% percent of total social media engagement.  

While these prominent figures aren’t necessarily spreading the most information, they are receiving the most engagement and thus have the most influence. To counter this, credible public health institutions can partner with prominent community figures, groups, and influencers (such as civil rights organizations) to share accurate information.  

Groups that are experienced at working at the grass-roots levels will find it easier to dispel harmful rumors about the vaccine and understand the importance of validating community concerns.  

     4. Make information digestible across various language and cultures  

Heavy use of scientific terminology and medical jargon has made information regarding the COVID-19 vaccine inaccessible to LEP communities. To maximize inclusivity, information must be created in a linguistically accessible and digestible way.  

The Center for Black Health & Equity’s Better For It campaign is one example of a program seeking to make information more accessible linguistically while addressing the cultural nuances often lost in COVID-19 messaging. Cultural messaging – in addition to linguistic – is essential in addressing concerns that certain groups may have with the vaccine. 

For example, collectivist culture (ex: Venezuela, Guatemala, Ecuador) may feel better about receiving the vaccine if they understand it as an opportunity to protect their loved ones. Their culture values family and community above all else.  

Similarly, undocumented individuals may be more likely to receive the vaccine if they understand that they do not need to share information, have insurance, or pay money to receive it. The federal government has ensured that insurance coverage and immigration status are not eligibility requirements, and it must be made clear that receiving the vaccine will not put them in harm’s way.  

Finally, the Cherokee Nation prioritized first-language Cherokee speakers in their vaccine roll-out back in December. Promoting cultural preservation was a key decision-making factor in this situation for these individuals.   

Ultimately, information made accessible to individuals in their own language and from their own cultural perspective will be more effective. By tapping into relevant cultural values and concerns, you’re able to build trust and connections which furthers the fight against COVID-19.  

Final thoughts

At United Language Group, we strive to assist LEP patients from start to finish. Equal access to healthcare should be available to everyone – including LEP patients – and this includes the COVID-19 vaccine. Our Vaccine Equity Program includes five touchpoints to build trust and provide equity, which ultimately ensures a positive patient experience. Visit here to learn more about how our 5-step approach helps all eligible individuals receive the vaccine regardless of language or cultural barriers.