Vaccine conspiracy theories hold wide sway in government-skeptical Latino community

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Credit: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP
Credit: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

Since the pandemic began, Latinos like my dad, a Mexican immigrant, have been hit with a torrent of false claims about COVID-19 on social media, including that the pandemic is a hoax. When I called Papi to urge him to wear a mask, his mind was made up: He said I was brainwashed. 

Latinos, like other communities of color, have long been targets of inhumane medical policies and practices, such as the sterilization of a third of Puerto Rico’s women between the 1930s and 1970s and of thousands of California Latinos. Our hard-earned skepticism can be an asset, but in the pandemic, it has contributed to high infection and death rates in the Latino community.

Now, Latinos lag behind in vaccination rates, driven in part by Spanish-language disinformation deliberately targeting us on Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp and more. 

[María Teresa] Kumar recently co-founded the Latino Anti-Disinformation Lab, which found that 51% of unvaccinated Latinos don’t plan to or are hesitant to get vaccinated. For Spanish-dominant speakers, it’s 67%. The lab aims to sway the one-quarter of respondents who are on the fence.

“Once somebody has consumed misinformation such that they’ve internalized it and formed an assessment, it’s extraordinarily difficult and resource-intensive to get them to change their mind,” said [lab co-founder] Angelo Carusone.

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