According to Juliana Gragnani, BBC News Brasil, false information is being sent via WhatsApp from politicians and preachers to remote Amazon villages.
A helicopter carrying health workers and coronavirus vaccine dosages was loaded from Labrea in the Amazon’s southern region. It took off to take it to a village about 50km away.
The villagers of Jamamadi, an indigenous Jamamadi tribe, welcomed the chopper with bows, arrows, and demanded it leave.
After hearing false rumors about vaccines, they wanted to be reassured by a religious missionary (not doctors) before being jabbed. The helicopter departed without administering any doses.
Several sources described the incident to BBC News Brasil in February. They asked not to be identified because they feared it would upset the delicate relationship between indigenous people and health professionals.
We spoke with people who said that although armed welcoming parties are rare, they worry about the spread of vaccine rumours to native people via mobile phones.
Brazil has many mobile phone companies that offer free access to Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. However, other websites and networks can be charged for.
Experts say WhatsApp, a common source for family and community news, is a problem.
Chat apps tend to be populated by people we trust most. However, data packages can discourage people from double-checking their health information, especially those who are cash-strapped.
Anapuaka Tupinamba, an indigenous journalist, says WhatsApp allowed for “a leap” in education and politics for the people of Indigenous People. However, she calls technology “a double-edged blade”.
“What we have is a fake internet. Anapuaka states that fake news is impossible to verify. It feels almost like I’m online, but it’s not. “I feel almost connected to the intranet of large companies.”
Anapuaka cites a recent example on the app – a tale about 900 indigenous Xingu persons dying after being given a vaccine. It was false.
Many of the negative vaccine information that circulates on WhatsApp is not coming from the villager but rather from politicians and religious leaders.
This includes Brazil’s President.
Jair Bolsonaro stated in September that “No one can force me to get vaccine.” He declared the following month: “The Brazilian people won’t be anyone else’s guinea-pig.” He said that he wasn’t going get the vaccine and that was it.
He seemed to echo the bizarre and false claims made by anti-vaccine groups online about Covid vaccines altering DNA.
“If you become an Alligator, it is your problem. If a woman gets a beard, or a man has a thin voice, they [pharmaceutical firms] will have nothing to say about it.”
Indianara Machado from Brazil’s Central West region, says that it was these kinds of statements that resonated the most with indigenous communities.
“People in the village are asking themselves, “If the president didn’t take it [the vaccine], then how can we take it?” “The beast’s chip”
The influence of religious missionaries and the evangelical churches in indigenous territories is considerable. Some have even spread vaccine lies, but not all.
Indianara Machado claims that many of the viral videos were of indigenous pastors telling people not get the vaccine. They declared it to be “the beast’s microchip”. This brings to mind false rumours about vaccines including chips that track and enslave.
Pastor Henrique Terena is the president of the National Council of Evangelical Indigenous Pastors and Leaders. He says there is a neo-Pentecostal section in Central-West that believes vaccines are bad and that they are from Satan, and that their members shouldn’t get the jab.
He says that his members are not the problem and that anti-vaccine pastors “claim” to have been evangelical. She says.
Forwarding is limited
Disinformation has been spreading through Brazilian WhatsApp groups for years. It played a role in the 2018 election.
The company has now limited the number of messages that can be shared to five times per day and added a tag that indicates when multiple messages have been sent.
WhatsApp explained to BBC News Brasil, that because the messages are encrypted, it doesn’t have any access to their content. WhatsApp claims it has taken action to counter misinformation by offering free services that include information about Covid-19.
Despite this, disinformation seems to have an effect on the uptake of vaccines in villages within indigenous communities.
Villagers are considered a priority group for Covid vaccination. Statistics show that 75% of them have received at least one dose.
However, this is still behind other recent vaccine drives.
BBC News Brasil obtained data from Brazil’s Access to Information law regarding the immunization of Brazilian indigenous peoples since 2011. We discovered that almost all of the previous vaccine drives had a 90% acceptance rate.
After a decade-long campaign of trust building, flu vaccine take-up reached 90% in 2019. This was all achieved in less than a month. The current Covid-19 campaign, however, began in mid January – three months earlier than the previous one.
However, the government is optimistic. Brazil’s Special Secretary for Indigenous and Health stated that the country has 14,000 health professionals.
It stated that “Indigenous vaccines continue at a favorable pace.”
MissionariesThe Jamamadi, a group of missionaries who met the helicopter equipped with bows andarrows, are one group that has been greatly influenced by missionaries from America in recent decades.
Miguel Aparicio (anthropologist) says that the Banawa people, which are neighbors to the Jamamadi have been fully vaccinated.
What is the difference? He says, “The Banawa’s missionary presence is not strong.”
A Jamamadi chief reached out to health officials several days after the jabs were rejected. He wanted the vaccine.
They returned to the village and vaccinated some of them. The team returned to the village and vaccinated some others. However, most Jamamadi still haven’t had a jab.