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Black and Hispanic Communities Grapple With Vaccine Misinformation

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SAN JOSE, Calif. — On an unseasonably warm day in February, two men working with a local community group went door to door in an ethnically diverse neighborhood to persuade people to sign up for Covid-19 vaccinations.

It was just after 11 a.m. when they encountered the first person reluctant to get a shot. Two doors down and 30 minutes later, it happened again. For nearly an hour, they stood on a front lawn with George Rodriguez, 67, chatting about the neighborhood, the pandemic and the available vaccines.

“I see all this stuff online, about how it’s going to change my DNA. It does something to your DNA, right?” asked Mr. Rodriguez, who is Hispanic. “There is just too much stuff out, too much conflicting information. And then I hear that even if you get the vaccine you can still get sick. Why would I get it, then?”

Black and Hispanic communities, which were hit harder by the pandemic and whose vaccination rates are lagging that for white people, are confronting vaccine conspiracy theories, rumors and misleading news reports on social media outlets like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter and in private online messaging, health authorities and misinformation researchers said.

The misinformation varies, like claims that vaccines can alter DNA — which is not true — and that the vaccines don’t work, or that people of color are being used as guinea pigs. A good part of this incorrect information comes from friends, family and celebrities, bubbling up in communities that have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic and facing other hurdles to getting vaccinated.

Foreign news outlets and anti-vaccine activists have also aggressively tried to cast doubt on the safety and efficacy of vaccines made in the United States and Europe.

Misinformation has complicated efforts by some states to reach out to Black and Hispanic residents, particularly when health officials have provided special registration codes for vaccine appointments. Instead of a benefit, in some cases the codes have become the basis for new false narratives.

“What might look like, on the surface, as doctors prioritizing communities of color is being read by some people online as ‘Oh, those doctors want us to go first to be the guinea pigs,’” said Kolina Koltai, a researcher at the University of Washington who studies online conspiracy theories. “I’ve seen people on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Clubhouse — you name it — saying the codes are a way to force the vaccine on communities of color as an experiment.”

Research conducted by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation in mid-February showed a striking disparity between racial groups receiving the vaccine in 34 states that reported the data.

The state figures vary widely. In Texas, where people who identify as Hispanic make up 42 percent of the population, only 20 percent of the vaccinations had gone to that group. In Mississippi, where Black people make up 38 percent of the population, they received 22 percent of the vaccinations. According to an analysis by The New York Times, the vaccination rate for Black Americans is half that of white people, and the gap for Hispanic people is even larger.

While researchers say a lack of easy access to vaccine sites could be the biggest driver of that shortfall, misinformation is playing a role.

The belief that doctors are interested in experimenting on certain communities has deep roots among some groups, Ms. Koltai said. Anti-vaccine activists have drawn on historical examples, including Nazi doctors who ran experiments in concentration camps, and the Baltimore hospital where, 70 years ago, cancer cells were collected from Henrietta Lacks, a Black mother of five, without her consent.

“The thing about misinformation is that it works best when it is built around a kernel of truth. In this case, many communities of color don’t trust the medical establishment because they don’t have the best history with it,” said Shireen Mitchell, founder of Stop Online Violence Against Women, a group that supports women of color who are harassed online.

An experiment conducted in 1943 on nearly 400 Black men in Tuskegee, Ala., is one of the most researched examples of medical mistreatment of the Black community. Over four decades, scientists observed the men, whom they knew were infected with syphilis, but didn’t offer treatments so that they could study the disease’s progression. When the experiment came to light in the 1970s, it was condemned by the medical community as a major violation of ethical standards.

Researchers who study disinformation followed mentions of Tuskegee on social media over the last year. While Tuskegee averaged several hundred mentions a week on Facebook and Twitter, there were several noticeable spikes that coincided with the introduction of Covid-19 vaccines, according to Zignal Labs, a media insights company.

The final week of November, when the pharmaceutical companies Moderna and Pfizer announced promising results in their final studies on the safety of their Covid-19 vaccines, mentions of Tuskegee climbed to 7,000 a week.

There was another lull until mid-December, when the Food and Drug Administration announced it had given emergency approval to the vaccines. Mentions of Tuskegee climbed to nearly 5,000 that week, according to Zignal, with some of the most viral tweets calling the coronavirus vaccines “the New Tuskegee study.”

Doctors say they are battling vaccine hesitancy in other demographic groups, as well. Last month, a poll by the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 23 percent of Republicans said they would “definitely” not get vaccinated, while 21 percent said they “probably” would not get a coronavirus vaccine.

Native American groups have been battling vaccine fears in their communities, and doctors have reported that some of their Chinese-American patients have been bringing in articles in Chinese-language media outlets questioning vaccines made in the United States.

Many Black and Hispanic people were already struggling to make appointments and reach vaccination sites that are often in whiter, wealthier neighborhoods. And officials in some cities say that people from those neighborhoods also have been flooding vaccination appointment systems and taking supply intended for poorer Black and Hispanic residents.

Misinformation about who is allowed to receive the vaccine, when it is available and how it was safety tested has added even more difficulty, Ms. Mitchell, said.

At a mass vaccination site at the Oakland Coliseum on a recent Friday afternoon, before 68-year-old Anthony Jones agreed to get his shot last month, there was just one last thing he wanted to look up on Facebook. He pulled out his phone and started to tap, waving off his grandson, who had driven him to his appointment.

“I read something about a woman who died from this thing, and I want to know if she was Black,” said Mr. Jones, who after several minutes of scrolling could not find the Facebook post he was looking for. “You see a lot of stuff on the internet which makes you think, as a Black man, you should not be taking this vaccine.”

Mr. Jones eventually gave up. As he was walking in for his shot he remembered the article he had seen was on WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, and from a website he didn’t recognize.

“My grandson tells me not to believe everything I read on the internet,” he said. “I like to believe my grandson.”

The next day, Daniel Lander, 38, was canvassing a neighborhood in San Jose with Armand Mateos, 28. For the last five months, Mr. Lander has been going door to door in a program managed by Working Partnerships USA, a community organization based in Silicon Valley. The group is working with local county officials to help dispel misinformation about the pandemic and vaccines.

“We hear people say that they saw this or that celebrity sharing something on Twitter or Instagram that made them think the vaccine was a bad idea. People value the opinion of people they look up to, and these celebrities have a lot of influence,” Mr. Lander said.

As they chatted with Mr. Rodriguez, a muscular man and an enthusiastic talker, Mr. Lander and Mr. Mateos said they sympathized with his concerns. They said they had a lot of the same questions, and explained their decision to get the vaccines themselves. Mr. Rodriguez asked where they got their shots and how it made them feel.

Mr. Mateos reflexively touched his left arm, where he had received the vaccine in recent weeks. It hurt, he said, and he wasn’t going to sugarcoat it. But he was convinced that it was safe, and that it would keep him and his loved ones from getting sick.

“They’ve read all this stuff online, from different news sources, which is confusing. But then they meet me, as someone who has had the shot, and I can give them some real answers,” Mr. Mateos said. He added that many people cited articles in the Spanish-language versions of Russian state-backed media networks, Sputnik and Russia Today. “They are very down on the American vaccines. People read those stories and don’t want to get the shot.”

As the two men were leaving, Mr. Rodriguez yelled out that he would get the shot that week. They made sure he had the phone number and websites he needed to register, and continued down the street.

“I think I will get it later this week,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “I don’t make promises, but I think that they’ve convinced me.”

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Whole Foods will soon let customers pay for groceries with palm scan

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Whole Foods will soon let customers pay for groceries using its parent company’s palm-scanning technology.

Amazon said Wednesday its palm-scanning system — currently used in about a dozen of its brick and mortar stores — will debut at a Whole Foods in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, the first of many planned rollouts at other locations.

The system uses Amazon One technology, which employs high-tech imaging and algorithms to create and detect a “unique palm signature” based on the ridges, lines and veins in each person’s hand.

Its high-tech sensors don’t require users to touch the scanning surface, like Apple’s fingerprint technology does.

Instead, palm-reading tech uses computer vision and depth geometry to process and identify the shape and size of each hand they scan before charging a credit card on file.

Amazon One will debut at a Whole Foods in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood, with many rollouts at other locations planned for the future.
Amazon One will debut at a Whole Foods in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, with many rollouts at other locations planned for the future.
Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

The company said that the palm-scanning tech will be offered as just one of many payment options at participating Whole Foods Stores and that it won’t impact store employees’ job responsibilities.

“At Whole Foods Market, we’re always looking for new and innovative ways to improve the shopping experience for our customers,” said Arun Rajan, senior vice president of technology and chief technology officer at Whole Foods Market.

Palm images used by Amazon One are encrypted and stored in a “highly secure” cloud, and customers can request to have their palm data deleted.

The company claims palm-scanning tech is more private than other biometric alternatives, such as facial recognition.

Amazon One builds on the “Just Walk Out” technology that Amazon uses in its Go stores, which detects the items shoppers pick up and charges them once they leave — without the need for a checkout line

Amazon is also planning to expand the cashier-less technology to Whole Foods, as reported by The Post.

Meanwhile, the tech could be good for its bottom line. The online behemoth aims to sell its palm-scanning tech to other companies like retailers, stadiums and office buildings.

Amazon One scanner
The scanner uses high-tech imaging and algorithms to create and detect a unique palm signature which is then encrypted and stored in a secured cloud.
Amazon

Last September, it said it was in “active discussions with several potential customers.” But it is unclear if it has progressed on any of those fronts.

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Apple’s new iPad Pros and TV remote don’t have U1 locators to help find them in your couch

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Apple has been quietly sticking special locator beacon chips into some of its new iPhones that’ll let you unlock your car and find lost items through walls — the latter thanks to the $29 AirTags announced today — but sadly, you won’t find that chip in the new M1-based iPad Pros or the long-awaited new Siri remote for the Apple TV.

Apple confirmed to us that the U1 locator chip, which uses pulses of ultra-wideband (UWB) radio to broadcast its precise location, won’t appear in the Siri remote. We’re waiting on final bulletproof confirmation about the iPad Pros, but it also doesn’t appear in their product page, spec sheet, or press release. Last year’s iP ad Pros didn’t include a U1 chip, either.

Is Apple expecting us to stick AirTags to our iPads and TV remotes to escape the jaws of the ever-ravenous couch? Unlikely, but the company has been pretty choosey about which devices get the chip so far. You can find it in the iPhone 11 and newer (but not the iPhone SE) and the Apple Watch Series 6 (but not the Apple Watch SE), but we’re pretty sure it hasn’t made its way to any iPads or MacBooks that have been announced since the chip’s introduction in September 2019.

Theoretically, Apple could build an ecosystem where any Apple device can easily find any other Apple device (not to mention UWB devices from Samsung, which is also deeply invested in the tech and has its own AirTag-like device as well). But for now, you’ll primarily just be using your phone to find AirTags, not other gadgets, except perhaps your future car.

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Your iPhone has a completely hidden app. Here’s how to find and use it

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Apple’s iPhone is full of hidden features and tricks we’re constantly discovering. For instance, did you know the Notes app has a hidden document scanner? Yeah, pretty cool. The latest hidden feature that’s been popping up on Twitter and blogs is another type of scanner, dedicated to QR codes, and it’s better than the one built into the camera app.

Indeed, you would already be able to filter QR codes utilizing the easy route in Control Center, or simply open the camera application and it will check a QR code. Also, you’re correct. Both of those strategies turn out great. However, the committed Code Scanner application accepts the position above and beyond by introducing a greater amount of the data I need to see about an examined code.

For instance, the camera application utilizes a little notice at the highest point of the screen to open a connection or show you data, though the devoted Code Scanner application makes it exceptionally clear what’s inside the QR code you just checked. Yet, here’s the rub: The Code Scanner application isn’t found on your home screen, nor is it found in iOS 14’s new App Library.

As should be obvious, the best way to discover the Code Scanner application is to utilize the iPhone’s Spotlight search include. Go to your iPhone’s home screen and swipe down in the center of the screen. An inquiry bar will show up at the highest point of your screen, alongside application and alternate route ideas underneath. Type either code or scanner. As you type, you’ll see the Code Scanner application symbol appear as an application idea. Tap to open it.

The flashlight icon at the bottom of the screen acts as a flash to illuminate a code if your phone is struggling to read it.

If you don’t have the QR scanner shortcut added to Control Center yet, here’s a post showing you how to customize Control Center to your liking. For more hidden features, check out our list for iOS 14. We also cover more general, but useful features in iOS 14.

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