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Health Workers In Boston Counter Vaccine Misinformation In Haitian Communities

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

As COVID cases keep rising with the spread of the delta variant, some parts of the country are also seeing an uptick in vaccinations. But health care workers say they're struggling to counter misinformation and persuade those who are hesitant, including in communities of color hit hardest by COVID to get the shot. From member station WGBH in Boston, Tori Bedford has more.

TORI BEDFORD, BYLINE: At a pop-up clinic in the back room of the Church of God in Boston, Irlande Aime gets her first vaccine. She chose Johnson & Johnson over Pfizer because it's just one shot.

UNIDENTIFIED NURSE: I'll be gentle.

IRLANDE AIME: Oh, my God, I didn't know if I was going to take it. Needles, they are scary.

BEDFORD: Aime says she wanted to see how others reacted to the vaccine before getting hers. Even though she's a nurse who treated COVID patients last year, she says she was still too scared to get vaccinated before now.

AIME: I wanted to wait because, in my opinion, it was, like, too rapid, too fast.

BEDFORD: When it comes to being hesitant, Aime is not alone. Her neighborhood and others in the city with significant immigrant populations and communities of color have the lowest vaccination rates in Boston.

DIEUFORT FLEURISSAINT: (Non-English language spoken).

BEDFORD: Reverend Dieufort Fleurissaint, who goes by Pastor Keke, helps run a small clinic in Mattapan. This neighborhood has the lowest vaccination rate in Boston, about 50% compared to the city's overall rate of nearly 70%. A third of the residents here are Haitian immigrants. Pastor Keke says his community is seeing a lot of misinformation, much of it in Haitian Creole.

BEDFORD: There are so many myths with the vaccine, especially in information coming from Haiti.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

BEDFORD: In this YouTube clip, with nearly 200,000 views, a woman tells Haitian radio listeners that the COVID-19 vaccine will give people a rare disease and transform them into animals.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

BEDFORD: Pastor Keke says he's heard false rumors like that, and he's scrambling to dispel them on every platform he can, including local radio stations.

FLEURISSAINT: I just placed a call to Haitian radio, and I invited people to join me. And then I have three or four people going I wasn't going to take the vaccine. But the fact that you said, come right now, I'm taking the vaccine.

BEDFORD: Another factor holding down vaccination rates is a mistrust of the medical system in Black communities rooted in longstanding racial discrimination in health care delivery. Mattapan Community Health Center CEO Guale Valdez says his clinic is doing everything they can to get people vaccinated.

GUALE VALDEZ: We're also running ads and using fliers with people who look like individuals who live in the neighborhood and then having those one-on-one conversations whenever possible. So, basically, we're doing it all.

BEDFORD: Valdez says he takes it on a case-by-case basis, and each shot in the arm is a victory. Haitian immigrant Emmanuel Dieujuste says misinformation on social media like that YouTube video prevented him from getting the vaccine for months. But the rise in cases and the delta variant made him change his mind and get his first shot.

UNIDENTIFIED NURSE: One, two and three. You're done.

EMMANUEL DIEUJUSTE: It's over?

UNIDENTIFIED NURSE: Mmm hmm.

DIEUJUSTE: Can I get two more?

BEDFORD: It's difficult to know if the education effort is having an impact. But over a recent two-week period, Mattapan's vaccine rate increased by 7%. Those numbers include people like Dieujuste and Aime who decided to take the leap.

AIME: I am ready because I'm here, and we just have to get with the program.

BEDFORD: For NPR News, I'm Tori Bedford in Boston.

(SOUNDBITE OF THRUPENCE'S "FOREST ON THE SUN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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