TikTok conspiracies, infertility myths and other disinformation hinder Central Valley COVID fight

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As Marisa Zendejas waits at the headquarters of the California Farmworker Foundation to get her first COVID-19 vaccination shot, the 27-year-old shrugs off tall tales she heard from people she knew And the internet’s about why he shouldn’t.

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“As such, your life span is shortened if you are vaccinated,” Zendejas said. “You only have that much time of life. Or you will be sterilized and you will not have children.”

She laughed hesitantly and shook her head. “There are a lot of things going around, and people get scared.”

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Nearby, 35-year-old Michael Rodriguez said he had seen on TikTok that the pandemic was a conspiracy by the government. He got COVID-19 in February, but said the symptoms were mild.

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Rodriguez needed approval to see Mexican regional music star Carin León perform at Bakersfield. His wife had been vaccinated months earlier, but he needed a negative test as proof of admission.

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Adults and children receive vaccines for COVID-19 in Delano, Calif.
(Gary Coronado /)

“I’m afraid of vaccinations because maybe something might happen to me,” he said. “There are videos of people who took shots and got sick.”

Both showed up to the California Farmworker Foundation – but neither took COVID-19 shot.

Zendejas was doing a schedule The appointment for her father was going to sign up as well – until the same wave of uncertainty she felt for 2021 washed over her and she withdrew.

Such is the power of myth when it comes to getting a potentially life-saving jab.

For the past year and a half, COVID-19 has battered the San Joaquin Valley like some areas of California. Kern County, which includes Delano, has one of the lowest vaccination rates in California. While approximately 64% of Californians of all ages are fully vaccinated, only 48% of Kern County residents are fully vaccinated. Overall, there is a lack of demand for booster shots, which has public health officials concerned that an escalation of the winter is imminent.

The problem isn’t the lack of available appointments or vaccinations. Public and private institutions collaborate with nonprofits to provide testing, vaccination and fact-based information about epidemics, from the worst urban areas to the most pleasant agricultural areas.

Delano's Enrique Cortés watches his brother Armando Cortés take a booster shot
Delano’s center Enrique Cortés watches his brother Armando Cortés receive a booster shot administered by nurse Marvin Perez.
(Gary Coronado /)

A visit to two different testing and vaccination clinics organized by the California Farmworker Foundation and the Delano Union School District offered a glimpse of the real culprit: propaganda.

Arnaldo Gonzalez, an outreach specialist in California, said, “I had one person who used to tell me, ‘If health workers are prepared to lose their jobs to not have a vaccine, what does that say for the people who get it? are you?” Arnaldo Gonzalez said. The Farmworker Foundation who has collected vital data over the past few months on youth and vaccinations in Kern and Tulare counties with plans to expand statewide.

There is a “fear of the unknown,” said Hernán Hernández, the foundation’s executive director. But he points to the massive propaganda spread by Facebook as one of the main culprits, which already lacks adequate resources.

“You hear something, you see something new every week,” he said. “That’s just the reality. It hasn’t stopped.”

For decades, the San Joaquin Valley has long suffered from poverty and health inequalities resulting from its vastness. So when the pandemic first hit in 2020, health officials prepared for the worst – and yet were shocked to see how bad it was, and remains.

Rebecca Pimentel, 10, received a COVID-19 vaccine
Rebecca Pimentel, 10, of Schaefer, Calif., receives a COVID-19 vaccine administered by pharmacist Danielle Colyco in Delano.
(Gary Coronado /)

“We really felt like it was going to be a hot spot from the get-go,” said Hernandez, who has overseen the foundation since 2016. “We vaccinated thousands of farm workers here, but at the end of the day, what can the government really do for the future of this valley.”

To help curb misinformation, the California Farmworker Foundation Developed a model where they hired farmworkers and connected them with children of farmworkers who are recent college graduates. Both visit the region, job sites, and neighborhoods to dispel myths through Q&A, first-person vaccination experiences and fliers.

Hugo Morales, executive director and co-founder of Radio Billingu, a national Latino public radio network that broadcasts in Spanish, English and Mixteco, said that the distrust of many Latinos stems from historical skepticism of a healthcare system in Mexico that was not always serve their interests. Morales said there are people in Mexico who run the fake medicine business on the street.

“Here’s what it’s translated to on Facebook, where people post things that aren’t effective or say people have died after getting the vaccine,” he said. “It’s not true, but there is a post somewhere.”

Several residents of the San Joaquin Valley who got tested this month at the nonprofit’s headquarters or attended a pop-up vaccination clinic in the Delano Union school district agreed. Many told myths they heard from coworkers while working in the fields or from family members.

Those who did not hesitate to get vaccinated said they had already dealt with the virus or had family members who died of the virus.

Enrique Cortés, 53, leaned against a railing in front of the Delano Union School District building, which was surrounded by his younger brother and brother-in-law. The trio stood silently, wearing face masks, on a recent afternoon when more and more people came to get their children vaccinated.

Although everyone in attendance wore masks, Cortés couldn’t help but wonder if those in line had the virus. Men, women, children.

Cortes got COVID-19 in February. He said that he was in the hospital for several days, but depression and anxiety due to the virus affected his spirit the most. As a farmworker supervisor, he let vaccine gossip rattle his nerves.

“Many of us have a negative mindset,” he said in Spanish. “We are afraid, but we need to accept that this is happening and that we need to protect ourselves.”

Cortes’ experience living through the virus reinforced his belief that vaccination could protect him and others. He took his younger brother that day to get a booster because he said he would have been too nervous to do it on his own.

His youngest son has been vaccinated, but his adult daughter has insisted against his arguments. He doesn’t have that much influence on her because she lives on her own, she said.

“If I could bring 10, 15 people with me, I would,” he said. “I’ll bring as many people as I can. And I always ask, ‘Did you get it?’ That’s how I feel safe.”

A handful of people who showed up at the Delano School District building for their first set of vaccinations did so. Diego Perez decided the night before that he would join his two little girls who were now eligible for the vaccine when he saw a school flyer about the incident.

He casually told his girlfriend that he would bring them as well. “My girlfriend was happy for me – she was more excited than me,” he said.

His two girls watched as their father, a 30-year-old tractor driver sporting a black beanie, chose his left hand to get the shot.

Perez was skeptical, even though the mothers of his children received the vaccine earlier this year. they said they were seduced “Crazy Things” He Heard About vaccines carrying a chip to track people.

“I thought, ‘I’ll wait and see,'” he said, as he took a seat outside to wait his 15 minutes. “I wasn’t sure. But at the end of the day, you do what you have to do. I’m committed.”

When the vaccination was available, Maria C. Garcia told herself that she would give herself some time to consider it. Then she realized she needed it because she wanted to travel In the Mexican state of San Luis Potosí, where she was born.

“The thing is, we hear a lot of things,” Garcia said.

The grape picker said that most of his colleagues in the fields have been vaccinated. They regularly asked her when she would find him. His “sooner, sooner” eventually changed to “later, later”.

After taking his shot, Garcia is joined by the others on the outside. Her cell phone rang and she immediately told someone that she had just got vaccinated. The man on the other end gasped clearly and Garcia chuckled.

She thought about discontinuing the flu shot. But she was forced to think again just thinking about falling and missing out on work due to that illness.

“I guess,” said Garcia sighing, “I’ll get that too.”

Times staff writer Rong-Gong Lin II contributed to this report.

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