- The head of Biden’s COVID-19 response team said anti-vaxxers are targeting Black Americans.
- Black Americans are receiving fewer vaccines than white Americans, per preliminary data.
- Conspiracy theorists targeted other communities of color, like Latino and Asian Americans.
- Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.
The head of President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 response team said anti-vaxx campaigners are targeting Black Americans.
Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, a Yale University associate professor who serves as the co-chair of Biden’s coronavirus task force, said anti-vaccination campaigners are targeting Black Americans using misinformation, the Financial Times reported.
The anti-vax movement refers to the uptick in debunked claims about vaccines on social media over the last decade. Anti-vax members have used fake claims that vaccines cause autism and alter DNA to deter people from getting shots.
Nunez-Smith said anti-vaxxers are tailoring misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccines, which have not caused serious side effects in the majority of recipients, to appeal to Black Americans.
“If you think about what it is to have 400 years in this country [since slaves first arrived in the US] being marginalized and minoritized, you can imagine the distrust you would have in the system,” she told the FT. “There are actors out there trying to take advantage of that with misinformation about the vaccines, especially among some of the communities that have been hardest hit [by the pandemic].”
Nunez-Smith, who also leads Biden’s COVID-19 health equity task force, did not say what actions the president’s team has taken to combat online misinformation.
The anti-vaxx movement’s targeting of Black Americans could signal a trend of conspiracy theorists preying on people of color. Ahead of the presidential election, right-wing disinformation campaigns targeted Latinos using Spanish-language posts on Facebook and WhatsApp groups. Progressive Asian American organizers said they saw similar misinformation campaigns on social media targeting immigrants from Vietnam and Taiwan.
Misinformation could pose significant public health challenges. The vaccine rollout, much like the distribution of COVID-19 cases, appears to favor white Americans over Black and Latino populations. A Kaiser Family Foundation analysis found Black and Hispanic people consistently received a smaller share of shots compared to their share of coronavirus cases and deaths.
The racial gap among vaccine recipients could stem from Black Americans’ historic distrust of the US health system. Some Black and Latino communities lack access to vaccine sites, and in those that do, reports of wealthy white people making appointments in underserved areas could be contributing to the race gap.