Why do Older Immigrant Generations Tend to be Afraid of The COVID Vaccine?

Author: Teresa Mettela (Left Leaning)

Immigrants during COVID

According to the New York Times, approximately 955 new coronavirus deaths and 77,718 new cases were reported in the United States on April 1st. As of Friday morning, more than 30,562,800 people in the United States have been infected with the coronavirus according to a New York Times database. Having studied the virus’ impact, we now accept that the virus disproportionately affects communities of color and immigrants. Multiple research findings conclude that people of color and immigrants (regardless of race) are dying at higher rates than their white and U.S. born counterparts due to the coronavirus. Not only that, these communities are suffering from job loss and job uncertainty as well.

The economic recession, brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, has hit Immigrants the hardest. According to newly released data, their job losses could significantly slow the United States’ economic recovery. Starting in February of 2020, the number of foreign-born workers employed in the United States dropped from 28 million to 22 million — a 21% decrease. This is because Immigrants are more likely than American-born workers to have jobs in service industries, including hospitality and food services, healthcare, and the food supply chain. With the onset of COVID-19, these industries have also seen some of the most significant job cuts.

That being said, it is not unfathomable that, when it comes to the covid vaccine, immigrant communities are standing last in line. There’s many conventional and unconventional reasons for why that might be.

Misinformation via News and Social Media

The most obvious reason being – misinformation and lack of information regarding covid that is easily accessible to immigrant communities. 

I believe that a person’s socioeconomic status plays a big role in their awareness of news and politics. Socioeconomic status (SES) refers to a person’s income, educational attainment, financial security, and subjective perceptions of social status and social class. Socioeconomic status can also encompass a person’s quality of life in terms of their opportunities and privileges. There is already research which confirms that SES is a consistent and reliable predictor of a vast array of outcomes across the life span, including physical and psychological health. SES is a critical determinant when it comes to areas such as behavioral and social science, “including research, practice, education and advocacy” (American Psychological Association).

For example, think about the “digital divide” – a term which refers to the gap between those able to benefit from the digital age and those who are not. A poll conducted by Pew Research Center (2018) states that a whopping 55% of U.S adults now get their news from social media either “often” or “sometimes”. Social media, in this case, includes media outlets such as Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. Unfortunately, a lot of this information does not reach people who cannot keep up with these technological advancements. 

Margaret, a first generation immigrant and college freshman in New York City who wants to remain anonymous, says, “My mother works in the medical field. She was given the option to receive the vaccine, but refused because she does not trust it.” 

“One thing that concerns me is that she tells all her friends and relatives that the vaccine is unsafe which discourages them from receiving it. On WhatsApp, she both sends and receives misleading articles about the vaccine which further feeds her perception of it being unsafe.”

For many immigrant communities, this is the reality of the technological era. These communities do not receive information at the same rate or speed as a more fortunate or tech-savvy person would. What’s more, the information that is available, is foreign or incomprehensible. These individuals are sometimes unable to distinguish between real and fake news. 

“I believe there is a lot of misinformation out there and also a lot of information that is not properly put into layman’s terms,” says Natasha, a doctor of pharmacy candidate at St. John’s University who wants to remain anonymous. “It is not fair to expect people to understand all medical terminology. [Public health] information should be easy to understand and read.”

The U.S’s History of Anti-immigrant Rhetoric 

We cannot ignore huge cultural barriers that have persisted between immigrants and the U.S government. In 2019the Washington Post published, “In keeping with the Trump administration’s determination to disincentivize migrants from coming to the United States, U.S. Customs and Border Protection often conveniently exploits asylum seekers who cannot read.” . The illiteracy of Central American migrants, especially women, is used to further facilitate the deportation of parents and separation of families. By manipulating illiterate refugees who often unwittingly sign away their rights, “the U.S. government is violating the basic tenets of the internationally recognized and protected right to seek asylum.”

Sarfaraaz Hossain, a Medical Assistant at the University of Buffalo, performs nasopharyngeal swabs for a private practice in Queens and Nassau counties. He is sympathetic towards the older immigrant generation who are fearful of the COVID vaccine. 

“You can’t even blame them. It is not past medical professionals and medical institutions to be racist, pregitious, or worse. As altruistic as they might seem, there is racism within medicine and even a desire to neglect or even use people of color for unethical experiments or studies.” 

Hossain highlights the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, an ethically unjustified study that was conducted between 1932 and 1972 by the United States Public Health Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The purpose of this study was to observe the natural history of untreated syphilis involving African American men. Studies such as this one continue to bruise the trust of the American government. 

“It will take a lot for the people to trust their government, but I hope in the meantime they will put their faith in science and get vaccinated if they can,” says Hossain.

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