By Wil Hehemann
Too many community members in south Arkansas are falling victim to myths and misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines, Teresa Henson, Extension specialist-program outreach coordinator at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, said. The false information they read online is causing them to delay getting the vaccine, which puts them and their families at the very real risk of falling ill to and possibly dying from COVID-19.
“Unfortunately, some of the people we work with have expressed hesitation about getting vaccinated because of what they are reading on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram,” she said. “This is occurring as COVID is killing more people in unvaccinated communities in Arkansas. One myth is that the vaccine was developed too quickly, and it will do more harm than good. Another myth is that there is not enough research about the vaccine.”
Henson said UAPB’s 1890 Cooperative Extension Program servesfamilies with children, grandparents, pregnant women and others in the community. Many of the people she works with are at risk of COVID-19 infection because they are essential workers or caretakers, live in tight spaces with others and have underlying health issues.
“Because of the risk they face, I am encouraging my clientele and everyone 12 years and older to get vaccinated,” she said. “We need to protect ourselves and others. When more people are vaccinated, we can start enjoying family events and other social gatherings again.”
Iris Crosby, Extension associate for UAPB, said she has also heard some dangerous myths circulating in the farming communities she serves. These falsehoods include that the COVID-19 vaccines could cause someone to be magnetic, cause problems with pregnancy or fertility, or alter human DNA.
“Arkansas’ rural residents need to ignore the lies they read on Facebook and other social media platforms,” she said. “For reliable information about vaccines and COVID-19, they should refer to information from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention available online at www.cdc.gov. This unbiased information will help them vaccinate with confidence.”
Crosby said farmers are at risk of contracting COVID-19 because of the nature of their job. Close proximity with other people, sharing tools and farm equipment, frequent traveling and demanding working conditions could put them at greater risk of infection.
Dr. Henry English, head of the UAPB Small Farm Program, said farmers are also at greater risk because they tend to be older – the average age of the American farmer is 60. Also, many people visit producers – family members, veterinarians, Extension personnel, customers, utilities individuals, equipment repair individuals and volunteers. This puts them at a greater risk of infection.
Farmers should also consider the financial risk of them or someone who works for them getting sick, he said. If people on a small farm operation start getting sick, the farmer is at risk of losing their harvest crews for a time – this could spell financial disaster.
“To me vaccination is a matter of life or death,” Dr. English said. “It is also a human risk management strategy. Reduce your chances of getting the virus and becoming very ill or dying by taking the vaccine.”
The UAPB Extension personnel emphasize the importance of not only getting a vaccination, but also following the CDC safety guidelines for COVID-19.
“Yes, we’ve heard to frequently wash your hands or to wear a mask a thousand times in the last year,” Henson said. “But these and the other guidelines are just as important now as they were months ago.”
To help stop the spread of COVID, the CDC recommends you:
- Get a COVID-19 vaccine.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue. Then throw the tissue in the trash and wash your hands.
- Stay at least 6 feet (about two arm lengths) from other people.
- Wear a mask over your nose and mouth in public.
- Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
- Stay home when you are sick, except when you need medical care.
- Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
UAPB’s Small Farm Program and Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Program are working to educate farmers, ranchers and family consumers as part of the national Extension Collaboration on Immunization Teaching and Engagement (EXCITE) project. The UAPB Extension programs’ emphasis is on adult vaccination hesitancy in African American communities in Arkansas. The EXCITE project is a partnership between Cooperative Extension and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.