CDC launches Covid-19 WhatsApp chat in Spanish to spur more Latino vaccinations

As Latinos continue to get hit with disinformation in Spanish about the Covid-19 vaccine on social media and messaging platforms, the federal government is making an attempt to fight back by partnering with WhatsApp to deliver information in Spanish to users.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is announcing on Monday a Covid-19 vaccine WhatsApp chat in Spanish to help get more Latinos inoculated.

The Department of Health and Human Services is collaborating with the messaging app’s parent company, Facebook, as part of the National Month of Action, an initiative the administration is taking to get 70 percent of U.S. adults at least one Covid-19 shot by July 4.

The chat is called “Mi Chat Sobre Vacunas COVID” or “My Chat about COVID vaccines” and is already live. Its aim to “help Spanish-speaking communities get vaccinated against COVID-19,” according to a press release provided in advance to NBC News. The chat can be accessed by scanning a QR code or clicking on a link. After the user replies with “hola,” (hello) a menu of options will pop up with nearby vaccination sites, information about transportation to and from the vaccine location, and answers to frequently asked questions. The information service is part of the “We Can Do This Campaign.”

On Friday, President Joe Biden celebrated reaching the 300 million vaccines in his first 150 days in office, but with about two weeks to go, it will be difficult to reach the 70 percent goal, though at current rates, it’s expected to come close.

Persistent disinformation

Latinos have been lagging in inoculation rates compared to whites. As of June 14th, 36 percent of Latinos had received at least one vaccine dose compared to 45 percent of whites, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. According to an analysis by the foundation, equity in vaccination rates has been improving since March 1st.

Federal, state, and local governments have implemented strategies to educate people on Covid-19 and the vaccine. But some experts say there is not enough information available in Spanish and Latinos continue to be a target of disinformation about the vaccine, including that it will give you the virus, it will make women infertile, and that the pandemic was planned by world leaders for pharmaceutical companies to get richer from vaccines. Even church pastors have been accused of spreading lies about the vaccine, including that it is “the mark of the beast,” a reference to a passage from the Book of Revelation about the apocalypse. 

Though Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms have taken steps to remove false information from users, much of the conspiracy theories are circulating in closed messaging platforms, like WhatsApp and Telegram.

As of Sunday, 65.4 percent of adults had received at least one dose of the vaccine.

While overall Covid-19 hospitalizations and deaths in the U.S. have gone down dramatically since the peak earlier this year, experts are warning that the spread of variants, particularly the Delta variant, can ignite a surge in new cases if more people don’t get vaccinated.

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