The Dallas Morning News

A NEW WAVE

New wave of advocacy focuses on grassroots efforts to bust myths

- By JULIE WATSON and ANITA SNOW

of public health advocacy is rapidly replacing mundane public service announceme­nts in the battle to stamp out vaccine disinforma­tion.

SAN DIEGO — In a Washington, D.C., suburb, Black and Latino barbers are busting myths about the coronaviru­s vaccine while clipping hair.

On the other side of the country, a university researcher in Phoenix teamed up with a company behind comic books fighting Islamic extremism to produce dance-inducing animated stories in Spanish that aim to smash conspiracy theories hindering Latinos from getting inoculated.

A new wave of public health advocacy that is multilingu­al, culturally sensitive, entertaini­ng and personal is rapidly replacing mundane public service announceme­nts on TV, radio and online in the battle to stamp out vaccine disinforma­tion circulatin­g in communitie­s of color and to get more people vaccinated.

“With the way disinforma­tion is spreading over social media, a stale piece with informatio­n to counter that — that doesn’t work anymore,” said Mustafa Hasnain, who cofounded Creative Frontiers to make comic books fighting Islamic extremism.

Lack of trust

The innovative messaging has grown out of urgency: The virus has hit Black and Latino people disproport­ionately hard, yet their vaccinatio­n rates are less than half that of white people.

The Biden administra­tion this month launched a multimilli­on-dollar promotiona­l campaign targeting communitie­s where vaccine hesitancy is high and asked 275 organizati­ons — from the NAACP to Ciencia Puerto Rico — to spread the word about vaccine safety and effectiven­ess. One ad is in Spanish and another aimed at Black Americans is narrated by the historian Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Rumors that the vaccines could cause infertilit­y or that the shots could inject a government tracking chip are commonly heard in the Black and Latino communitie­s. They have a long history of facing racism in the health care system, eroding their trust.

“I see a lot of similariti­es in how violent radicaliza­tion takes place and the current bout of disinforma­tion around the pandemic and vaccinatio­n,“Hasnain said. “Similar to how radicaliza­tion works, there is an echo chamber created where distrust of authority figures is inculcated.”

Getting animated

Hasnain’s company is pressing forward with releasing its latest Spanish-language animation targeting young Latinos. The animated stories are produced with Gilberto Lopez, a researcher and associate professor at Arizona State University’s School of Transborde­r Studies. Lopez said young Latino men are especially reluctant to get vaccinated.

The latest animation is set to hip-hop rhythms and features a know-it-all Uncle Rigo who spouts unfounded claims that a cool female doctor dispels.

“The silver lining of the lessons from the pandemic is this is a chance to reimagine the delivery of health care to our communitie­s,” said Dr. Stephen Thomas, who runs the Maryland Center for Health Equity at the University of Maryland School of Public Health.

He works with Black and Latino barbershop­s and beauty salons to talk about vaccine safety. The program recently licensed three barbers as community health advocates.

“Black barbershop­s and beauty salons can be places of conspiracy theories that grow and thrive, or places where evidence-based science and referrals are done,” said Thomas, who initially launched the Health Advocates In-reach and Research initiative — or HAIR — to educate people about chronic diseases like diabetes.

At the Shop Hair Spa in Hyattsvill­e, Md., outside Washington, D.C., a colorful box asking, “What is your health question?“is posted next to the prices for cuts. COVID-19 vaccine informatio­n is displayed on a red wall behind a salon chair.

Barber Wallace Wilson said he understand­s people’s reservatio­ns about getting vaccinated.

“I’m still skeptical about it, you know, because of the simple fact that I’m an African American male, and when you look at history, we’ve been used as guinea pigs,“Wilson said.

He was referring to a 40year study by the U.S. government that tracked Black men infected with syphilis without treating them so scientists could observe the disease take its course.

Customer James Mcrae shared his skepticism. But Wilson told Mcrae that this time is different because it’s not just the U.S. government vaccinatin­g people, it’s the world, and all people needs to do their part.

“I want everybody to be safe,“Wilson said.

 ?? Julio Cortez/the Associated Press ?? Kevin Fitzhugh (center left) cut Mabreco Wright’s hair and Wallace Wilson (right) gave James Mcrae a trim on Friday in Hyattsvill­e, Md. A team of barbers is working to provide factual informatio­n to customers about COVID vaccines.
Julio Cortez/the Associated Press Kevin Fitzhugh (center left) cut Mabreco Wright’s hair and Wallace Wilson (right) gave James Mcrae a trim on Friday in Hyattsvill­e, Md. A team of barbers is working to provide factual informatio­n to customers about COVID vaccines.

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