DC’s biggest COVID-19 challenges? Vaccine misinformation, hesitancy

The biggest challenges facing D.C.’s response to COVID-19 isn’t access to the vaccine or availability — it’s combating misinformation and vaccine hesitancy, city officials said during calls this week.

“The District’s biggest challenge is not going to be access to the pediatric vaccine. There’s plentiful supply, many locations for parents to get their children vaccinated,” City Administrator Kevin Donahue said during a D.C. Council call Friday. “Instead, our biggest challenge is going to be combating vaccine misinformation, hesitancy and sometimes outright opposition.”

He said officials want parents and family members to talk to health care professionals to get accurate information about the vaccine.

“We also need everyone from council members, community leaders, faith leaders, everyone who has sway and respect in their circle of community or family, to get involved and talk with family members about the need and importance of getting kids vaccinated,” Donahue said.

The city administrator’s comments echoed what D.C. Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt told the council’s Committee on Health during a webinar Thursday, when she said she frequently gets questions about disparities and inequity in vaccine availability.

“Listen, I put vaccines in all of the neighborhoods where all the disease burden exists,” Nesbitt said. “I put gift cards, and AirPods and scholarships in all of those neighborhoods.”

“But I can’t beat the sharing of myths. I can’t beat the sharing of false information and misinformation, which is extremely dangerous, on social media and Twitter. And I can’t beat this notion of … ‘They’re taking your rights away, as a parent.’ All of those things are reckless and extremely dangerous.”

She said one myth is the thinking that kids aren’t going to the hospital, so they don’t need to get vaccinated.

“Well, I don’t know why any parent would think that, ‘Well, unless something causes my child to go to the hospital, it’s not something I should prevent.’ … We don’t know the long-term effects of having COVID. So that’s not a risk you should want to take for your child. We should want our children to be protected. These children want to be engaged in activities, and you should get your child vaccinated,” Nesbitt said.

She added that it’s becoming “reckless and dangerous” to withhold the vaccine from children.

“And I’m concerned that the same age groups — the 20- to 44-year-old Black residents who are unvaccinated — are the parents of the 12- to 15-year-old Black residents who are unvaccinated [and] will also be the parents of the 5- to 11-year-old Black residents who may not get the opportunity to be vaccinated,” Nesbitt said.

The health director slammed the idea that people are relying on social media for vaccine information.

“What I think is extremely dangerous is for people to think that going on social media is doing research, OK?” Nesbitt said. “There’s no research on Facebook. There’s no research on Instagram. There’s no research on TikTok. That’s not research.”

She urged people to bring their questions to a qualified health care professional or to a community member who has gotten their info from a professional.

“You’ve gotta get your babies vaccinated; you’ve gotta get vaccinated,” Nesbitt said. “It’s exhausting to see the stories of moms, especially single moms, who were in the hospital on a ventilator, And now we have to be concerned about who’s gonna take care of their children when they’re gone.”

“It has been exhausting for me to get on the phone on a Sunday morning with another Black woman who runs a health department and for us to share frustrations about how this is a disparity or inequity that could have been prevented, and we felt powerless. Can you imagine what that feels like?”

Nesbitt said hotspots across D.C. are popping up in neighborhoods with lower vaccination rates.

Later Friday, D.C. is hosting a walk-up children’s vaccine clinic at Takoma Community Center in Ward 4 and Fort Stanton Rec Center in Ward 8. These clinics will be open from 3:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. No appointment is needed.

Get more information on the D.C. vaccines page.

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

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Will Vitka

William Vitka is a Digital Writer/Editor for WTOP.com. He's been in the news industry for over a decade. Before joining WTOP, he worked for CBS News, Stuff Magazine, The New York Post and wrote a variety of books—about a dozen of them, with more to come.

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