The informed Consent Action Network, a Texas-based anti-vaccine organization, was among five anti-vaccine groups that collectively received more than $ 850,000 in federal loans from the Paycheck Protection Program, The Washington Post reported on Monday. The organization received $ 166,000 in May, according to founder Del Bigtree.
“Vaccine hesitation” or “vaccine skepticism” poses a significant and ongoing challenge for health officials trying to overcome mistrust within communities of color, the anti-vaccine mob and general uncertainty nationwide. Doctors and scientists say coronavirus vaccines available in the United States are safe and efficient.
“At the very least, that’s a mixed message from the government,” said Timothy Callaghan, assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Texas A&M University School of Public Health. “People who are hesitant are going to turn to various pieces of information to help them make that decision… and if one of the key pieces of information that comes out is government funding of anti-vaccine groups, that could send a signal. to those individuals that maybe they shouldn’t get vaccinated, ”he told the Texas Tribune.
The Austin-based nonprofit has more than 43,000 Facebook followers and regularly posts information questioning the safety of coronavirus vaccines. Facebook and YouTube penalized Bigtree’s online anti-vaccine talk show last year for violating disinformation policies and downplaying the severity of the pandemic.
Facebook cracked down on several of the groups that received the PPP loans, a spokesperson for the social network told the Washington Post. The informed consent action network page, tagged with a link to Facebook’s Coronavirus Information Center, is not recommended to users by the company’s algorithms, the Facebook spokesperson said at the Post.
In an interview, Bigtree said his organization spent the funds on employee salaries. “Like everyone else, we were trying to keep employees employed instead of putting them out of work,” Bigtree told The Tribune. He called the effect of Facebook’s anti-disinformation efforts on his organization’s content “censorship” and a “dangerous” sign of the times.
A recent poll shows vaccine skepticism a threat to public health in Texas, where Republican officials have largely echoed President Donald Trump’s downplay of the pandemic, official James Henson said. from the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. A University of Texas / Texas Tribune October Poll found that if a coronavirus vaccine became available at low cost, 42% of registered voters in Texas said they would try to get it and 36% said they would not – a significant drop from to the 59% who declared in a UT / Texas Politics Project poll in June that they would be vaccinated against the disease.
The fact that anti-vaccine groups have received PPP funds “stands out as being really at odds with public health, but the bigger problem here is that there has been a pronounced lack of consistent messages on safety, the efficacy and necessity of the vaccine both nationally and nationally. leaders across the state, especially Republicans, ”Henson said. “This leaves a huge void where there should be an unambiguous message about the vaccine.”
The five groups that received the loans are the National Vaccine Information Center, Mercola Com Health Resources LLC, Informed Consent Action Network, Children’s Health Defense Co. and the Tenpenny Integrative Medical Center, according to the UK Digital Hate Center, the Message reported.
Disclosure: The Texas Tribune, as a local nonprofit and small business newsroom, requested and received a loan in the amount of $ 1,116,626 under the Paycheck Protection Program.
Disclosure: Facebook, Texas A&M University, and the University of Texas at Austin have financially supported the Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, non-partisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and sponsors. Financial support plays no role in the journalism of the Tribune. Find a complete list of them here.