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Sunday, December 4, 2022

Unfounded fears limit COVID-19 vaccination of children in rural California

Listen to Constanza Mazzotti's voice note

It has been more than two years since the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic began in the U.S., which has been detected in nearly 5.7 million infected children across the country. The "golden state" is no exception, especially when it comes to theunfounded fears limit vaccination against COVID-19 in minors in rural California. 

Currently, vaccines have become the most effective tool to fight the disease, prevent severe cases, hospitalizations and death. Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are available for people over six months of age and have been qualified as totally safe by the country's health authorities.

Despite this and the fact that California is one of the fastest states to make SARS-CoV-2 vaccines available to all those over six months of age, it is also where unfounded fears prevail that limit the safety of the most vulnerable in the home.

Conspiracy theories such as the intention to make people disappear, inability to connect spiritually and heart or lung failure have been circulating worldwide through social networks, messaging apps and streaming platforms, among other means, since the vaccine was created. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), vaccines save between 2 and 3 million children's lives each year. Despite this, some parents' fear of their children receiving the inoculation continues due to myths that circulate among communities.

These are some of their stories and fears

It is noon on Sunday, May 15, 2022. A cheerful family from Oaxaca, Mexico, sits together in Rohner Park to celebrate the fifth birthday of one of its youngest members. Carefree, they celebrate with the Oaxacan pozole dish they proudly offer to anyone who approaches them.

Unfounded fears limit COVID-19 vaccination in minors
Photo: Manuel Ortiz P360P

Blue balloons with orange and decorations from the animated children's movie "Encanto" adorn the trees next to the table of the Oaxacan farm family who tell P360P that COVID-19 simply doesn't exist.

"It's my mentality against the whole world, but I really feel to some extent that this whole thing [COVID-19] is a fake," says a family member and resident of Fortuna County, a location in California's northern Bay Area.

Of this family, only one member has received the inoculation, but the mother and her children refuse to do so.

Photo: Manuel Ortiz P360P

One of the main reasons for not getting vaccinated, according to Fortuna residents, is that despite the inoculation, they still run the risk of getting sick. 

In addition to this reasoning, there are other myths about the side effects that the COVID-19 vaccine may cause, such as the following infertility and infection to the heart and lungs. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have pointed out that this is false.

The young people in the family, who are informed through the Internet and through their schoolmates, refuse to receive the vaccine, a decision supported by their parents who believe that their children are informed, since they speak English and have access to different communication tools to which they do not. 

"What they (our children) tell us is that they have heard that because of the vaccine they won't be able to have children, or that they could get heart disease, and that they could die some time after they get the vaccine," says this Oaxacan mother.

The three most frequently heard myths
in rural communities in California are:
1. Heart infection
2. Infection to lungs
3. Infertility

Religious and spiritual beliefs are also part of the factors that influence the mentality of the inhabitants to accept or not the inoculation. 

"It can block your ability to connect with spirits to meditate. I heard that it will also affect a person's ability to be able to connect spiritually," are some of the beliefs heard from the community.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), only 29 percent of children ages 5 to 11 and 59 percent of adolescents ages 12 to 17 in the country were fully vaccinated as of early June, allowing the disease to advance and affect the most vulnerable in the household.

Of note, CDC has also reported that cases of myocarditis and pericarditis after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine are rare and that patients with these conditions who received the vaccine responded satisfactorily after medication and rest.

On the other hand, the fear provoked by the belief that the vaccine against the SARS-CoV-2 virus causes death has increased due to social networks such as Facebook, since it is one of the most popular platforms where families obtain information. 

However, the CDC has pointed out that reports of death following vaccination are rare and that reports of adverse reactions do not necessarily mean that the vaccine has caused a health problem. 

Educating for life

As of February, the mandate to wear masks outdoors was suspended due to the decrease in infections in the U.S., much of it thanks to vaccines.

Schools from all over the country joined the uprising.

For a Fortuna County teacher, educating about the importance of vaccinations to protect lives has not been easy, even though the school where she works decided to continue with the mandate of the use of face masks in order to protect its students, teachers and workers.

The school's decision to maintain the use of facemasks did not affect the students. However, several complaints from parents prompted the school to remove the rule.

This teacher told P360P that one of her students had COVID-19 symptoms so she asked him to use his mouthpiece saying, "well, you know it's because we care about the people around you, because you don't want them to get sick like you," which caused the child's mother to complain to the principal's office. Days after the event, students who were close to him began to show symptoms.

From her perception, the teacher pointed out that communities of color are more reluctant in terms of vaccinations and the use of masks, because "there is a great distrust towards medical services and the government due to past aggressions. Our government has a history of hurting these populations".

CDC recommends that all persons 6 months of age and older be vaccinated against COVID-19 and that all persons 5 years of age and older receive booster doses, when eligible. 

If you or someone in your family has questions about the vaccine, go to your pediatrician or doctor so that he/she can answer them. In addition, information is available in several languages by the CDCs that can help you.

You may be interested in: Chips or infertility, COVID-19 vaccine myths still alive among Redwood City Latino community

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