Countering misinformation on COVID-19 boosters among parents and seniors


More than one million people in the U.S. have died due to COVID-19. And yet, as of Nov. 16, only 32.4% of eligible seniors in California have been vaccinated and received their bivalent booster, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Website.

As of Nov. 16, 12.9% of Asian Americans have received the updated COVID-19 vaccine bivalent booster dose. Asian Americans have one of the higher bivalent booster rates among other races or ethnicities, the CDC Website states.

Despite the COVID-19 vaccines rollout in December 2020, and children ages 5 to 11 years old becoming eligible this past May, misconceptions about the vaccines continue to hinder some people from making informed decisions when it comes to their health. It is crucial that people receive accurate and up-to-date information about the vaccines and boosters from medical professionals, public health officials and other trustworthy sources.

Deciding what’s best for children
Some parents of young children in the San Francisco Bay Area Japantown communities have heard misconceptions about the COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots.

Julio Lau, a Chibi Chan Preschool parent in San Francisco’s Japantown, told the Nichi Bei Weekly in a phone interview that initially, he and his wife “were not sure” about vaccinating their children because they had seen misinformation online and in the media. They heard about some kids reacting poorly to the vaccine. Nevertheless, the couple decided to take the “safe route” and vaccinate their kids.

Lau and his wife closely monitored their children for side effects after they were vaccinated, but they were fine.

Meanwhile, Darryl Wong, a parent of a Lotus Preschool student in San Jose’s Japantown, said many people mistakenly presume that if they get the vaccine, they won’t get the virus. He noted that the vaccines help “the children to be around people.”

However, many other parents of young children, as well as seniors in the San Francisco Bay Area that the Nichi Bei Weekly interviewed, have not heard any misinformation pertaining to the COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots.

Reiko Iwata, a parent of a Rosa Parks Elementary School Japanese Bilingual Bicultural Program student in San Francisco, said she hadn’t heard any misconceptions about the COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots. She added that she doesn’t care what other people say; she decide(s) what I should do for my children.”

Chibi Chan Preschool parents Javier Rangel and Jennifer Sato have not encountered any misinformation, having “researched peer-reviewed medical publications as well as discussed the issue with our pediatrician.”

Initially, Rangel and Sato had “concerns about the effectiveness” of the vaccines, along with the “risks versus benefits of the mRNA vaccines, which are new,” they wrote to the Nichi Bei Weekly in an e-mail.

Several other parents said they have not been concerned about vaccinating their children or getting them their booster shot.

Wong has not had any concerns about vaccinating his children.

Greg Lee, a Lotus Preschool parent, said he doesn’t have any “real concerns,” but he’s waiting to see if any “concerns arise” with the vaccine. If all goes well, he will “go ahead and get my kid vaccinated.”

Lee added that he hasn’t heard many “negative things” about children receiving the vaccine, and “it’s protecting them in the schools and keeping them safe.”

Fellow Lotus Preschool parent, Kristin Koga, said at the beginning of the vaccine rollout for children, she was “hesitant” because it’s “brand new.” Despite this, Koga opted for a lower dosage of a series of three shots for her son. He had “no side effects” afterwards.

The Nichi Bei Weekly, in collaboration with the Vaccinate All 58 campaign, co-hosted a virtual community conversation Oct. 27 with Dr. Yasuko Fukuda, MD, of Pacific Pediatrics in San Francisco, and Mickie Okamoto-Tsudama, a parent of two young children.

Children have suffered ‘anxiety, depression, suicidality, eating disorders’
As a pediatrician, Fukuda discussed the physical and emotional effects of COVID-19 on children. Children did not exercise enough as they stayed home due to the pandemic, she said. Children also experienced an increase in “anxiety, depression, suicidality, eating disorders.” Entire families were affected, she added.

Samuel Ware, another Lotus Preschool parent, said he trusts “official sources” like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration when it comes to vaccinating his kids. He added he does not talk to people who spread misinformation because “they’re not safe to be around.”

Dr. Elliot Sumi, a pediatrician at Torrance Memorial Medical Center, said in a phone interview that parents have not expressed “worries specifically about the vaccine.” However, some parents have chosen not to vaccinate their young children because they are “nervous about the possible side effects of the vaccine.” Sumi said he goes through “talking points” from the CDC Website with parents who are nervous about getting their children vaccinated.

Sumi said the misinformation and myths about how the COVID-19 boosters negatively affect patients and their own health care decisions “start to permeate (into) the other vaccinations that we give to children and make parents more skeptical about the routine vaccines …”

Sumi says people who have been infected with the virus should still receive the bivalent booster because, “if you had COVID-19 already once, you may not have adequate protection against the types of strains that are circulating right now.”

Seniors were eligible for the COVID-19 bivalent booster shot Sept. 2, according to the CDC Website. Art Liu, a Yu-Ai-Kai Japanese American Community Senior Service lunch program participant in San Jose’s Japantown, said he saw some people on the Internet say the COVID-19 boosters “actually affects your immune system,” but he does not believe that. He believes in science. After Liu received the booster shots, he said he feels “more confident” about going out.

Yung Chen, another Yu-Ai-Kai lunch program participant, said he received all of the coronavirus booster shots.

And since getting the boosters, he feels safer. “You protect yourself and protect other people,” he said.

Courtney Kane, a Kimochi lunch program participant in San Francisco’s Japantown, said she had not encountered any misinformation on the updated COVID-19 booster. She added that getting the vaccines has improved her health.

Back in December 2019, Kane was at a hospital in San Francisco, when she said a man sitting next to her was coughing constantly. She said a few days later, she could not remember anything that happened between Jan. 3 and Feb. 1, 2020. She added that after she got the boosters, the last two times she contracted the virus, her symptoms only lasted three or four days. The booster has “enhanced” her life, she said.

Another Kimochi lunch program participant, David Hartley, said that he has not heard any misinformation regarding the COVID-19 booster, except for anti-vaxxers’ opinions, which he “shut(s) … out.” He listens to his doctor, and does his own research on the vaccines, listening to epidemiologists’ recommendations.

Hartley said he has not received the most recent booster, but he will. He has “no hesitation whatsoever.”

Parent and senior interviewees said they hadn’t encountered any misinformation about COVID-19 through social media, but with the Internet in general.

When a Nichi Bei Weekly reader posed the question to Fukuda whether COVID boosters will become part of children’s regular vaccines, she said, it will be a “regular thing for everyone.” The virus “may continue to have different strains … that’s one of the thoughts that might happen.”

Dr. Alaric Akashi, a semi-retired internal medicine doctor, wrote to the Nichi Bei Weekly that he has “not encountered misconceptions about the COVID-19 booster among my patients.” He added that some patients have wondered if “they should receive the booster or wait,” or they ask whether the Pfizer or Moderna booster is “suitable” for them.

If his patients have questions regarding the COVID-19 booster, Akashi points them to their county or state department of health.

Some Japanese American senior center executive directors have said older adults at their organizations haven’t expressed concerns about COVID booster misconceptions.

Diane Wong, the executive director of J-Sei, wrote to the Nichi Bei Weekly that “seniors have not expressed anything regarding misinformation/rumors or concerns.” She added the Emeryville, Calif.-based senior center’s older volunteers, staff and clients are receiving their COVID-19 boosters.

Similarly to Wong, Jennifer Masuda, the Yu-Ai-Kai executive director, wrote to the Nichi Bei Weekly in an e-mail that she has not heard of seniors discussing “misinformation or rumors surrounding the COVID booster.” She credits a COVID-19 Prevention and Control group from the Santa Clara County’s public health department, which Yu-Ai-Kai is included in, to help them stay up-to-date with the latest county statistics on “COVID transmissions, vaccine information, and information coming from the state and the CDC.”

According to the CDC Website, 214.4 million people ages five and up were eligible to receive a COVID-19 booster dose as of Aug. 5. As of Nov. 16, 2% of children aged 5 to 11 years old in California received the bivalent booster dose.

Knowing his daughter received a COVID vaccine, Darryl Wong feels “a little bit safer, but it’s the usual common sense stuff, washing your hands before and after you play, cover(ing) your mouth when you cough and, if you’re not sure about something, ask.”

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