Jan 22 COVID-19 vaccine

People wait 15 minutes under a doctor’s supervision after receiving a COVID-19 vaccination as others check in to get vaccinated at Toppenish Middle School on Jan. 22 in Toppenish.

Vaccine misinformation is running rampant online globally, and it’s no different in the Yakima Valley.

That issue can be amplified by language barriers, leading many to turn to social media or hearsay for answers where traditional sources of information may fail non English-speakers, Yakima experts say.

Cristina Ortega, manager for civic engagement and advocacy at the Latino Community Fund, said lack of accurate information in Spanish that is easily accessible about coronavirus vaccines is exacerbating Yakima’s own infodemic.

“There’s a shortage of accurate information about vaccines in Spanish, and many people don’t know how to find the Spanish information that there is. A lot of folks also don’t have access to the internet and may rely on children or community members for information who might not be getting that from a reliable source, such as social media or supermarket conversations,” Ortega said.

The Latino Community Fund has been working to help the Hispanic community get access to verified vaccine information in partnership with other organizations in Washington. One part of that initiative took place Tuesday night, in an open forum on Facebook live to address questions and concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine in Spanish.

“They believe what they hear on Facebook and they take it to heart because they don’t know, so this was a forum organized for that purpose with certified experts on the platform where people are getting incorrect information,” Ortega said

Lillian Bravo, director of public health at the Yakima Health District, says the problem is not unique to Spanish speakers.

“Unfortunately we are seeing with the COVID-19 vaccine that there is a lot of misinformation with a lot of our community members and we are hoping that with more accurate information we will minimize rumors and myths,” Bravo said.

The goal of local health officials, Bravo said, “is to get more people to feel safe to enough to get vaccinated.”

The event was sponsored by Yakima Health District, Pacific Northwest University, Yakima Valley Memorial and the Latino Community Fund.

Panelists included Ortega and Alberto Saldaña of the Latino Community Fund; Dr. Consuelo Rodriguez of Pacific Northwest University; Dr. Bismark Fernandez of Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital; and Father Jaime Chacon of the Catholic Diocese of Yakima.

Community members were given an open platform to have their questions answered. Questions ranged from skepticism about the speed of vaccine development, confusion around pregnancy and vaccination, vaccine ingredients, to reliable sources of vaccine information.

Fernandez weighed in on concerns about how quickly the vaccine was created. “It was possible because of the financial aid that they gave the companies for the development of these vaccines,” he said.

“There was also a lot of information about this vaccine because it had already been developed for viruses similar to the coronavirus, so researchers didn’t have to start from scratch,” he added.

Some community members told panelists they had heard rumors that after taking the vaccine, women would not be able to become pregnant for two years. Rodriguez told listeners this was a myth not supported by research.

“There is no evidence that you cannot become pregnant after taking the coronavirus vaccine,” she said.

Pregnant women are advised to consult a health care provider regarding vaccination due to the limited scope of current research, according to the CDC.

Others expressed fears about vaccine ingredients, such as myths they’d seen that the vaccine contained aborted fetuses.

“Aborted fetal cells are not an ingredient of coronavirus vaccines,” said Fernandez. However, Moderna and Pfizer did perform tests to make sure the vaccines work using fetal cell lines grown in a lab, which is not the same thing as fetal cells, he explained.

Margaux Maxwell reports for the Yakima Herald-Republic and the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin. She can be reached at mmaxwell@yakimaherald.com.