Photo of vaccinated patient's arm.

WA DOH Host Panel Focuses on Misinformation with COVID-19 Vaccines

by Chamidae Ford

On Wednesday, June 9, the Washington State Department of Health will be hosting a virtual panel. “Stopping Misinformation that Hurts the Black Community” will focus on preventing the spread of misinformation and providing factual statistics and resources about the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Miriam McBride, the CEO of Truth Movement Innertainment, will be moderating the panel. The event will feature Chris Davis and Michealea Lemons, prevention and health coordinators at PCAF, and Korey Strozier, school board director (position 3) with Tacoma Public Schools, as a panelist. 

During an interview with the Emerald, Lemons explained how the community is at the heart of the discussion.

“I think one great goal of the panel is to bring together Black people, Black community leaders, and just really address what’s been talked about what we’ve heard within our Black community, may that be through our work, our personal lives, and just bring that to the forefront and really share that with our community to just kind of address any hesitancy, and share what we’ve learned,” Lemons said.

The point of the panel is to provide clarity for those who are hesitant about getting the vaccine. Davis mentioned in an interview with the Emerald, that as someone who works on HIV prevention, the speed at which the vaccine was developed is a common concern.

“I think most commonly I hear around the vaccines that [people] want to wait longer,” Davis said. “A lot of people are like, ‘I want to wait longer to see how this vaccine turns out’ [or] ‘I don’t want to jump into it.’ A lot is around ‘I just want to wait’ or ‘This happened all too fast.’ There’s not a cure for HIV or a vaccine for that [and] it’s been worked on for 40 years, but COVID can be solved in less than a year.”

Lemons also spoke on the similarities between COVID-19 and HIV and how they are frequently compared to one another.

“This is a pandemic that we have not seen on this scale since AIDS and HIV hit the scene,” Lemons said. “If we even think about what misinformation was shared back in the ’80s with HIV, it was extremely similar. And one thing that I really noted at the beginning of the pandemic was the commonalities between HIV and COVID. It’s a pandemic. It’s something that’s new, it’s something that’s scary. It’s killing hundreds of thousands of folks we love. So when a vaccine gets busted out ASAP, there’s going to be hesitancy.”

During the panel they will discuss concerns like these. Davis went on to explain the reason why a vaccine was developed so quickly in comparison to HIV, an autoimmune disease that still does not have a cure. 

“The biggest thing is that with COVID there were a lot more people to get into those clinical trials and a lot of money was placed into it to actually further research and to excel those processes versus other vaccines,” Davis said. “HIV, for example, there has been money that has been put into HIV. It’s just not going to get [solved] as fast because, one, there’s not a lot of people who are entering clinical trials for HIV. Two, HIV is still kind of viewed more in affecting only gay men specifically. That view is still what a lot of people think. So it’s just not going to get the funding it deserves to actually solve it.”

According to Avert, only 71% of the funding needed for global HIV response was met in 2020.

Davis also talked about how distrust plays a big role in the spread of misinformation. 

“A lot of people distrust the government. And I think that’s fair. For Black folks and People of Color, like that’s real. But I do think everyone wants information,” Davis said. “I think all of this misinformation happens because of this huge mistrust. And then we have social media that kind of adds conspiracy theories and how science has been used before to promote propaganda or like false narratives. So it’s just a lot of this big distrust because we’ve seen it. We see that in history.”

The panel will teach viewers how to prevent themselves from falling prey to misinformation and how to verify information that they may be reading or hearing about.

And beyond providing tools on how to pick out misinformation, the event is focused on creating a space where people can openly share their fears and concerns while hearing from a wide range of points of view. 

“I think it’s good to hear from different perspectives in one place. And also being honest about where people are at. I think panels in these discussions give that to someone who might have questions, whether it’s vaccines or a different topic, and can watch this panel and might be able to learn from it,” Davis said.

This panel is facilitated by community members for community members. Lemons explained that she plans to share her journey with the vaccine as a Black woman with those in attendance. 

“I think it’s important to just say, ‘Hey, these are people in your community doing this work, holding these clinics, or talking to folks who are attending clinics. And we’re being honest,’” Lemons said. “I think all of us said that we were hesitant, but at the same time, sharing what helped us overcome that [hesitancy] and allowing the community to see them in us, I think is really valuable.” 

The panel is tonight, Wednesday, June 9, from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., and you can register to attend on the following website.

Chamidae Ford is a recent journalism graduate of the University of Washington. Born and raised in Western Washington, she has a passion for providing a voice to the communities around her. She has written for The Daily, GRAY Magazine, and Capitol Hill Seattle. Reach her on IG/Twitter: @chamidaeford.

📸 Featured Image: Photo of vaccinated patient courtesy of Centers for Disease Control via Unsplash.

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