Equipped with shareable videos and neighborly home visits, the International Center of Kentucky is fighting a battle against misinformation – debunking coronavirus vaccine myths that didn’t originate in the local refugee community but threaten to put its health at risk regardless.
The void created by language barriers and limited access to culturally competent health care has been filled by falsehoods online, International Center Executive Director Albert Mbanfu said. To combat that, the agency has sent staff members to refugees’ homes to reassure them that the vaccine is safe and effective. Online, the center has marshaled a slate of video messages “in all the languages that we can think of,” Mbanfu said.
“We’ve experienced hesitancy amongst our refugee community,” he said, pointing to significant vaccine hesitancy nationwide.
Recent guidance from the National Library of Medicine within the National Institutes of Health noted that “a survey representative of the U.S. population reported that less than 60% of adults endorsed an intent to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.”
A recent ABC News analysis of county-level data collected by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that there were still more than a dozen states just last month where more than a fifth of the population was hesitant to get the vaccine.
Vaccine hesitancy was estimated to be higher in rural areas of the country, particularly in western states like Wyoming, North Dakota and Idaho, and southern states like Mississippi, Tennessee and Georgia.
ABC News said reluctance was also estimated to be higher in some of the country’s most underserved areas where vaccines are most needed.
“We’ve been aggressively trying to fight back the misinformation,” Mbanfu said. “We’ve made some inroads.”
So far, more than 200 refugee adults have been vaccinated here, Mbanfu said.
The center has created special WhatsApp groups and shared information on its Facebook page, hoping to check the constant current of vaccine mistruths circulating online. Vaccine hesitancy as an issue isn’t unique to the refugee community, but Mbanfu worries it may suffer disproportionately as a result.
“We know that they are more vulnerable than native-born Americans,” he said.
Setting aside the pandemic, many refugee, immigrant and migrant communities face barriers to vaccination, resulting in lower vaccination rates than the native-born population in the U.S.
The National Library of Medicine said: “Overall, barriers to vaccination faced by (refugee, immigrant and migrant) communities include cultural factors, differing understanding and beliefs of disease processes, health care utilization challenges (e.g., accessing care and system familiarity), limited trust (particularly of government entities) and specific vaccine concerns (efficacy, necessity and safety).”
It recommends that individuals receive vaccine information in their primary language in a way that’s culturally appropriate and from a trusted source.
Agencies must also work to make vaccination convenient, the National Library noted, by “bringing vaccines to people, rather than people to vaccines.”
The National Library of Medicine’s most important recommendations are that “communities be engaged directly and that vaccination efforts use community partners who have trusted relationships. Unfortunately, there has been a historic lack of investment by many governmental bodies and public health agencies in developing and maintaining true community partnerships.”
– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @NewsByAaron or visit bgdailynews.com.