WhatsApp’s new chat feature is called “Mi Chat Sobre Vacunas COVID,” and can be found through a link or QR code. Photo: Thomas Trutschel via Getty Images
WhatsApp’s new chat feature is called “Mi Chat Sobre Vacunas COVID,” and can be found through a link or QR code. Photo: Thomas Trutschel via Getty Images

The CDC brings COVID-19 outreach efforts to Whatsapp


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Septiembre 22, 2023

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is launching a Spanish-Language partnership with WhatsApp in an effort to get more Latinos vaccinated against COVID-19.

The move comes as more Latinos continue to get bombarded with disinformation on social media, and remain one of the least vaccinated demographics.

In the bigger picture, it’s a collaboration between the Department of Health and Human Services, headed by Sec. Xavier Becerra, and WhatsApp’s parent company, Facebook. It comes as the Biden administration's deadline to get 70% of U.S. adults inoculated by July 4 looms. 

First reported by NBC Latino, WhatsApp’s new chat feature is called “Mi Chat Sobre Vacunas COVID,” and can be found through a link or QR code. 

Users are prompted to respond “hola,” after which the app will deliver a menu of options varying from information about nearby vaccination sites, and frequently asked questions. 

On the surface, the collaboration makes sense considering a recent report by Pew Research on social media use in 2021, which gave more insight into the platforms that Hispanics and Latinos predominantly use. 

Researchers used data from a nationally representative survey of 1,500 U.S. adults conducted via phone from mid Jan. 25 to Feb 8. While not the largest subject pool, it provided critical insight into the incredibly nuanced demographic that the CDC may now be taking into account to reach communities with low vaccination rates. 

There’s a misconstrued notion that all Latinos exclusively watch mainstream Spanish-language stations, when in reality, it’s places like YouTube, Whatsapp, Facebook, and even the Google algorithm that do the most in reaching people and potentially swaying opinions.

Among Latinos, it’s WhatsApp in particular that sees the most traffic. 

The Pew Study found that 52% of Hispanic adults and 49% of Black Americans use Instagram, compared to 35% of white Americans, who said the same. When it came to WhatsApp however, 46% of Hispanic adults said they were “far more likely” to use the platform compared to 23% of Black or 16% of white Americans. 

A potential issue is that Facebook-owned WhatsApp has recently come under fire for lack of moderation on far-right posts and blatant misinformation that has fueled an “infodemic” that, especially during a global pandemic, has effectively cost lives by adding to vaccine hesitancy that is already prevalent among Black and Latinx demographics. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) says an “infodemic” is when there is “too much information,” including false or misleading information in digital and physical environments during a disease outbreak. 

It’s an ongoing issue that led to the rise of the #YaBastaFacebook initiative by organizations like Free Press, after moderation, especially among Spanish language content on the platform, was not being prioritized. 

Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms have taken steps to remove false information from users, reported NBC, however the bulk of conspiracy theories circulate on closed messaging platforms like WhatsApp. 

In a statement, WhatsApp acknowledged its high Spanish-speaking user base without mention of its past history of misinformation and lack of moderation. 

“People of all backgrounds rely on WhatsApp, though we know WhatsApp plays a particularly strong role with Spanish speaking communities in the United States. This new Spanish-language vaccine finder the CDC developed makes it easy to find a location to get the shot, order a free ride to get there, and get information,” Whatsapp wrote in a statement announcing the partnership with the CDC.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), Latinos continue to lag in vaccination rates compared to white Americans. 

It says that as of June 14, 36% of Latinos received at least one vaccine dose compared to 45% of white Americans. However, rates are on a steady incline. Rates have been slowly improving since March 1.

Whatsapp has its issues of misinformation, and while this CDC COVID-19 chat option comes on the tail end of the pandemic in the United States, it can only help. 

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