Name a COVID-19 vaccine conspiracy theory circulating on social media, and hairstylist Katrina Randolph has heard it. So every time a client slides into her chair, she snips away at fears and misconceptions.
No, the vaccine isn’t an effort to sterilize Black people. It can’t alter your DNA. It won’t implant a microchip to track your movements. And no, people of color are not being used as guinea pigs.
Randolph has put herself on the front lines of the Black community’s fight against COVID-19 vaccine misinformation, part of a network of barbershops and beauty salons working with Dr. Stephen B. Thomas, who runs the Maryland Center for Health Equity at the University of Maryland School of Public Health.
The Health In-Reach and Research Initiative – or HAIR – used to focus on educating people about chronic diseases such as diabetes and colon cancer, Thomas says.
Now, it’s taking on something just as dangerous and more insidious: viral misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines that is contributing to Black Americans getting vaccinated at a much lower rate than white Americans...
But social media misinformation plays a particularly harmful role in spreading fear about the vaccines, said Neil Johnson, a professor of physics at George Washington University who studies online extremism.
“It plays on fears about people needing to protect themselves against an unknown evil. That evil may be the ‘system,’ not just COVID-19 itself. And that system could be the existing health infrastructure and guidance which is not geared to Black American interests,” he said.