BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Leaders in Western New York's Latino community said the spread of misinformation on social media is leading to low vaccination rates.
"Facebook and Instagram and TikTok, they become sort of that information to people that really have no liability," Dr. Raul Vazquez, a physician at Urban Family Practice said, "We get some bizarre, people are going to put a chip in me. Look at the metal, people that have gotten the vaccine now have a magnet that attaches to that location. It's just the stuff is beyond... You don't want to laugh about it, but you don't know where these concepts are coming from. Why are people thinking this way?"
"Social media is really available all the time. To tell you the truth, not many people go faithfully to the doctors," Esmeralda Sierra, the president of the Hispanic Heritage Council of Western New York, said.
New York Attorney General Letitia James has asked Facebook to address vaccine myths. She said misinformation on social media has led to vaccination rates 45% lower within the Latino community compared to other ethnic groups.
But community leaders said the root of the problem is connected to health literacy and the social determinants of health.
"They don't really have the opportunity to talk to their doctor, so they're not having these conversations. It would be ideal for them to be able to talk to a doctor," Sierra said.
They also said there is a large portion of the Latino community who lacks trust in the government.
"They haven't trusted the system. We lost trust with a lot of the community. Especially in the Latino and African American community because of a lot of the horrible things that have happened in the past," Dr. Vazquez said.
So community groups and doctors are working to combat vaccine hesitancy through social media campaigns and community events, where someone can get vaccinated or talk about it with a medical professional.
"Specifically the Hispanic Heritage Council, we use Facebook to spread the current information," Sierra said.
Dr. Raul Vazquez has been using his mobile medical unit for pop up events in communities.
"We've been having them all around. Some of the churches, some of the school districts, so we've been tackling it," Dr. Vazquez said.
Governor Andrew Cuomo has designated $15 million to promote vaccination in communities disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
The Hispanic Federation will receive $5.5 million. The money will go to a network of 65 Latino community based organizations.
Sierra said she doesn't know if the Hispanic Heritage Council of Western New York will get any of that money yet, but said if they do, it will help immensily.
"We haven't gotten any announcements or communication yet, but it would be wonderful for us to be able to allocate some of that money to expand our efforts," Sierra said.