CDC, WhatsApp launch vaccine finder chat in Spanish to help boost vaccinations


EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — In an effort to boost COVID-19 vaccinations in communities of color, messaging platform WhatsApp is joining forces with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The platform, which is owned by Facebook, launched a new chat function for Spanish-speakers on Monday.

According to the latest data from the CDC, roughly 15% of Americans who identify as Hispanic, and 9% who identify as Black or African American, have had at least one vaccine dose.

Comparatively, about 60% of White Americans have had one vaccine dose to date.

Robert Traynham, head of public affairs at Facebook, spoke to 12 News via Zoom this week.

“The good news is that Rhode Island has over 600,000 people that have already received the first or their second shot. The not-so-good news is that we’re not 100% there yet, particularly in communities of color,” he said.

The new chat service allows users to find nearby vaccination sites, transportation to those sites, in addition to getting answers to frequently asked questions about the vaccine.

Traynham said users can ask about anything from possible side effects, to rumors about the vaccine.

“What we do is, we provide that safe, confidential, free messaging to the CDC where folks can get the answers to those questions,” he explained.

Traynham believes the privacy and convenience of using the platform will help to meet people where they are and get them informed, but also help build a level of trust.

“There are some people that may not have health insurance, they may not feel comfortable speaking to a loved one about this, or a friend, and they’ve been yearning for that private, personal interaction, and WhatsApp provides that,” Traynham said.

Traynham says it’s still too early to tell what the engagement will be at the national or state level, but is hoping for 100%.

According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, those who identify as Hispanic or Latino make up 16.3% of Rhode Island’s population, while those who identify as Black or African American make up 8.5%.

The latest data from the R.I. Department of Health shows 13% of Hispanics are partially vaccinated, while 5% of Black Rhode Islanders are partially vaccinated.

More than 683,000 are partially vaccinated in Rhode Island, with more than 618,000 considered fully vaccinated, according to the Health Department.

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