By: Matthew Anthenelli
VAX Force is a team of all-black women from Springfield, Massachusetts who are bringing vaccine awareness and accessibility to their community. Beginning earlier this spring, the COVID-19 vaccination began its rollout to non-essential workers all across the globe. Whether it be from misinformation or lack of access, many people both in the United States and worldwide have not yet been vaccinated. Studies show that many marginalized communities are lacking access to vaccination sites and other resources. There’s also a concerning percentage of the population that are receiving and spreading misinformation about the science behind the vaccine.
VAX Force is a group of amazing and inspiring black women from Springfield, Massachusetts who have taken these matters into their own hands. We were lucky enough to be able to ask VAX Force a few questions about their mission in their community. Read what they had to say below.
The initiative to spread vaccine awareness amidst an age of misinformation is such a dire and important action to take. What inspired you to form the Vax Force and take matters in your own hands?
Springfield, MA is the largest city in Western Mass and the third largest in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts yet much of the attention and resources were being given to Boston and the Eastern part of the state so Commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris and Mayor Domenic J. Sarno took action and formed this committee so that the members could serve as direct resources for the citizens in Springfield, especially those living in vulnerable communities.
Who are the members of the Vax force? How did you come together for this amazing and inspiring cause?
There are wonderful leaders in public health, medicine, faith, research and diversity that are a part of Commissioner Caulton-Harris’s network . The Mayor and the Commissioner extended invitations to join Springfield Vax Force to select individuals and they were excited to volunteer and lend their expertise, and in some cases roll their sleeves up and join our community outreach efforts.
What groups or communities are being neglected from vaccine access the most?
When we formed Springfield Vax Force Latinx, African-American, Caribbean, African, Vietnamese and immigrant communities did not have convenient access to the vaccine. The vaccine was being distributed in suburban areas. Fortunately, through the great work of Springfield Vax Force we now have access to the vaccine in all of the neighborhoods in the city. Vaccine clinics are accessible within 1.5 miles of any neighborhood in Springfield.
Why do you think misinformation is being spread about the vaccine? Anti-vax rhetoric was popular in the early 2000s, why do you think it returned ?
There are anti-vaxxers using the digital platforms to spread misinformation and there are algorithms in place that widely circulate this disinformation wrapped in what looks like reputable sources, so folks are often seduced into sharing that information as if its factual – and it spreads like wildfire. Aside from that, there is mistrust in the medical community by marginalized groups, and when those concerns that are often valid are not addressed, it provides an opportunity for anti-vaxxers to attach falsehoods to legitimate claims.
How do you suggest that the average reader can convince loved ones or friends who may fear the side effects of the vaccine or the vaccine itself?
The beautiful thing about social media is that is rich with narratives penned by people who have been vaccinated that are very open about their experiences and even those who have experienced the worst side effects were absolutely fine within 24 hours. We also are over a year in and as time passes the studies become more longitudinal, so there is now evidence that supports the safety of the vaccine.
You are making PSAs in order to inform and educate the youth on the significance of the vaccine. Do you think that the younger generation is the largest demographic of people spreading anti-vaccine misinformation or that the problem has more prevalence in older generations ?
Older generations very quickly analyze risk versus reward when it comes to getting vaccinated and for them COVID-19 poses a far greater risk than the vaccine, and they were able to see that in real time with the death rate being more prominent in older individuals. Additionally, older individuals have been around long enough to see the positive effects of vaccines throughout the decades and the eradication of viruses like measles, chicken pox, rubella and polio. Individuals 45 and under are often the group spreading anti-vaccine misinformation.
A big part of the Vax Force’s initiative had to do with the Faith and Science vaccination clinic. Do you think misinformation surrounding vaccinations is more prevalent in religious communities?
Our research has shown that it is not. In fact, in our community, the faith leaders have been outstanding in sharing safety messages related to the COVID-19 vaccines.
How can the average person who is already vaccinated help aid your cause?
It’s important that we continue to be diligent with safety protocol. Being vaccinated does not mean that you are 100% protected against spreading COVID-19 or testing positive. Although mandates are being removed, safety practices are still an individual’s right so we urge vaccinated people to remain cautious. It also helps when vaccinated people share how seamless the process is from check in to receiving the shot, to observation.
Where can people find out more about Vax Force and their mission?
All the information you could possibly need can be found at the City of Springfield website.
The Faith and Science event was a major success. What do you have planned next in Vax Force’s future?
We are now targeting the young people in the City of Springfield ages 16-25. We have a young men’s and women’s basketball tournament coming up called Shot for Shot where young people who attend the tournament, receive promotional gifts and most importantly get vaccinated on site.