Stop the spread of vaccine misinformation

A student argues that others should hold difficult conversations with family and friends to share reliable information online to fight vaccine myths.


For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been on top of my vaccinations, from the Hepatitis vaccine to my annual flu shot. I firmly believe in the science behind vaccines and their ability to protect us from diseases. 

The COVID-19 vaccine was no different. I got it as soon as I was eligible in March, and felt excited to be vaccinated because I knew it was the first step toward returning to life before quarantining.

When I told my mom that I planned to get the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, I received an apprehensive reaction because she saw rumors that the vaccine caused infertility. However, after sending her different fact-based, medical articles, she understood the risk of infertility was a myth. 

Temple University students must have similar conversations with their reluctant family and friends for us to overcome the pandemic. By actively listening to their concerns about receiving the vaccine, we can encourage them to listen to the science that is disproving their skepticism, which can ultimately increase vaccination rates and help the North Central community reach herd immunity.

When these conversations become more confrontational or combative, it is important not to lecture, shame or threaten the other person and to know when to end the conversation. People should also leave the door open for more opportunities to talk about vaccines by reminding your family and friends that you’re there to listen to their concerns.

The United States cannot reach herd immunity until at least 80 percent of the total population is vaccinated, the New York Times reported.  Approximately 25 percent of Americans do not want to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, which would prevent the U.S. from reaching herd immunity, according to a March 2021 survey by Monmouth University 

Lauren Olsen, a sociology professor, believes the anti-vaccination movement stems from many aspects of twenty-first century American politics, like mobilization against the medical field. The movement connects to ideas of anti-intellectualism and anti-elitism, like not caring about reaching herd immunity or not caring about other people being affected by COVID-19, Oldsen added.

“It touches broader themes of this individualistic, ‘I know what’s best for my family,’ but of course, it’s coming from this place of privilege, like ‘I can afford to homeschool my kids if the school mandates vaccines,’” Olsen said. 

The lack of data literacy among Americans and the inability to ask questions to primary care doctors contributes to the hesitancy to get vaccinated, Olsen said

“There are plenty of people who don’t have a trusted person to talk to or talk through their fears with,” Olsen said. 

It has been difficult for Mackenzie Reed, a freshman tourism and hospitality management major, to discuss the vaccine with her family members who are vaccine hesitant. 

“I don’t like to bring it up just because it ends up in an argument, so I steer clear of that,” said Reed.

When attempting to speak with hesitant family members, Reed recalls them telling her that the facts she brings to the conversation are incorrect. When this happens, she tries to recognize their viewpoints, she added. 

“I try to get a better understanding as to why people believe what they do even though it can be hard,” Reed said.   

Although the COVID-19 vaccine may feel like a controversial topic, students should communicate with family members to help them make informed, evidence-based decisions. To learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine, students can utilize sources like the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website and the City of Philadelphia’s COVID-19 information page.

But for people who are firmly against the vaccine, Olsen recommends using first-person experiences and personal narratives in conversations about vaccination instead of just facts and figures. 

“It’s important to ask anti-vaxxer people what is really important to them, and try and understand what are the values that are undergirding this decision,” Olsen said. 

Fernando Gaxiola, a freshman communication and social influence major, acknowledged that it is not easy to persuade people who do not want to be vaccinated, and that it is important to be as respectful as possible when having these conversations. Gaxiola often uses social media as a way to inform his followers why they should get vaccinated and how to access vaccines in Philadelphia. 

“You can’t just tell them ‘What the hell is wrong with you? Why won’t you just take the vaccine?’” Gaxiola said. “You have to talk to them slowly. There’s a process of trying to persuade them to get the vaccine.”

One factor that may fuel vaccine hesitancy are issues with the vaccines themselves. On April 13, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommended a pause on the distribution of Johnson & Johnson vaccine after a rare blood-clotting disorder was found in six patients, The Temple News reported. Although the pause was lifted on April 13 and the risk is minimal, the news of rare blood clots may hurt public confidence and increase vaccine hesitancy, CNN reported.   

Social media can be a useful tool in sharing information about the vaccine but can also be an outlet for spreading misleading and inaccurate information, according to the Library of Congress.  

“Depending on what media outlet you choose to get your information from, a lot of it can get overwhelming and scary,” Olsen said.

Vaccine hesitancy is highest in rural regions and poor counties with few primary care providers, high infant mortality rates or high poverty rates, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration. It is also high among Black Americans, who have a historical mistrust of the healthcare system, ABC News reported. 

For many Black Americans and people of color, there is a cycle of distrust in the healthcare system that comes from generations of experimentation and dismissal at the hands of medical professionals, NBC News reported. For example, the Public Health Service Syphilis Study at Tuskegee Institution, studied 600 Black men who were infected with syphilis, and did not offer them any form of treatment. 

Misinformation and disinformation are dangerous epidemics that are just as contagious as COVID-19, but students can contain them by being transparent to their family and friends about where their information regarding the COVID-19 vaccine is coming from.  

Sharing reliable information, like credible news sources and peer-reviewed journals, is key to ending the pandemic, and students have a responsibility to use their educational tools and resources to inform others.  

Fernando Gaxiola is a freelance photographer for The Temple News. He did not play a role in the writing or reporting of this story.

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