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The door-to-door efforts to push back against vaccine misinformation

fighting vax misinformation
Posted at 9:53 AM, Aug 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-20 12:53:58-04

The vaccine may be the most contentious topic in America, but Robert Dawkins doesn't fear it. It's a conversation he has multiple times a day.

“If they say no, we ask people why? If there are any questions they have, and (we) try to clear up any misinformation," Dawkins explained.

Five days a week, Dawkins and other members of his non-profit, Action NC, go door to door in the Charlotte area asking if people have received the COVID-19 vaccine.

North Carolina's vaccination rate is below the national average, with less than half of its total population fully vaccinated.

"You can see an ad on TV. You can hear an ad on the radio, but there is nothing like doing something face to face," said Action NC member Lowell Faison.

This group is trying to make sure people who live in areas with low vaccination rates have the right information because there is plenty of the opposite going around.

“You’ve heard everything from the 5G towers to Bill Gates. They have issues with, ‘why is he so interested in it?’ They feel like they're getting microchipped," said worker Meko McCarthey, who says it's difficult to change many people's minds. “It doesn’t even matter the amount of money still is not going to make them change their mind when they are dead set and they’re stuck. It’s nothing, even to the point if you say it’s mandatory, they’re not going to do it.”

On some days, members of the local health department come with the group. They have the COVID-19 vaccine on standby in case someone wants a shot on the spot.

“Our whole thing is not to convince you but try to clear up any disinformation that they have and keep it moving," Dawkins said.

The White House believes door-to-door vaccine programs have helped boost vaccination rates in parts of the country where they’ve been low, but some Republican leaders have criticized the efforts, claiming those knocking, coerce or intimidate people into getting the vaccine.

“I don’t get where the anger gets associated with this particular virus shot except for the fact it’s so politicized," Dawkins said.

The truth in the battle for trust is that information can only do so much to build faith in a community that's had it broken before.

One of the reasons why a man in this community says he won’t get the vaccine is because of the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, which started in the 1930s and went on for 40 years. The experiment involved 600 Black men, many of whom had syphilis. Participants were told they would receive free care for their condition, but the US government was really doing what's now considered an unethical experiment to see how the virus impacts the body.

Participants went largely untreated and were never offered penicillin, even though it was proven effective and had become widely available.

"We hear that a lot, ‘I’m going to take the shot and it’s going to do the same as the Tuskegee experiment because it's to kill us all,’” Dawkins recalled of excuses he has heard. "But if that’s the case, they would not give you the vaccination so they can study the long-range effects."

And while the mountain of misinformation related to the COVID-19 vaccine is large, Dawkins and his team will continue to knock and talk as the pandemic continues in hopes they can make a difference.

“I do tell the person it’s at your discretion, go do your own research. Just don’t listen to social media or what someone else’s personal opinion or preference is. Do your own research so you can feel comfortable with whatever you do when it comes to your body and yourself," McCarthey said.