Vaccine hesitancy has been a significant roadblock in our journey back to “normal life” following the Covid-19 pandemic. As our attention turned to the development of a safe and effective vaccine, public health officials underestimated the long history of vaccine misinformation and distrust of the medical community. It is critical that we understand and learn from this background in order to reduce vaccine hesitancy and improve public health now and in the future.
Vaccine hesitancy has been driven in large part by the anti-vaccination movement, which dates back to the first-ever vaccine to stop the spread of smallpox in the 1800s. Many met the vaccine with skepticism, decrying it as being opposed to God’s will. Others played on the public’s fear of putting foreign substances into one’s body, publishing cartoons depicting people morphing into cows after vaccination (criver). Despite extensive evidence proving vaccines’ safety and efficacy, fear and misinformation continued to undermine vaccination campaigns from the diphtheria-pertussis-tetanus (DPT) vaccine to the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. Today, vaccine hesitancy has been further exacerbated through social media, creating eco chambers where these problematic views are shared and reinforced (criver).
A history of medical malpractice has also given rise to vaccine reluctancy. People of color, and in particular Black Americans, have witnessed the medical establishment endanger their health and betray their trust as patients and research participants (John Hopkins). This historical trauma has caused an enduring mistrust of the medical establishment among people of color. And it comes as no surprise, that despite being overrepresented in front-line, essential jobs, and vulnerable to risk factors that can make COVID-19 worse, many people of color communities have been slow to be vaccinated or remain skeptical.
Many of our New Voices Are Rising youth come from vaccine hesitant communities. The program received funding from the US EPA to increase outreach and conversations around COVID-19. For the past few weeks of the fellowship program, NVR youth have developed TikToks that creatively dispel vaccination myths using evidence based research, and of course, humor. Watch the video below to stay informed about the Covid-19 vaccine as well as how you can best support your community amidst a rise in cases.