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Barbers, artists help defy vaccine myths for people of color

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Barbers, artists help defy vaccine myths for people of color

SAN DIEGO — In a Washington, DC, suburb, Black and Latino barbers are busting myths about the coronavirus vaccine while clipping hair.

Across the country, a university researcher in Phoenix teamed up with a company behind comic books fighting Islamic extremism to produce dance-inducing animated stories in Spanish that aim to smash conspiracy theories hindering Latinos from getting inoculated.

And in San Diego, former refugees, Latinos and Black activists initially hired by health officials as contact tracers are calling back the people they reached about COVID-19 exposure to talk about the shots.

A new wave of public health advocacy that is multilingual, culturally sensitive, entertaining and personal is rapidly replacing mundane public service announcements on TV, radio and online in the battle to stamp out vaccine disinformation circulating in communities of color and get more people vaccinated.

“With the way disinformation is spreading over social media, a stale piece with information to counter that — that doesn’t work anymore,” said Mustafa Hasnain, who co-founded Creative Frontiers to make comic books fighting Islamic extremism.

The innovative messaging has grown out of urgency: The virus has hit Black and Latino people disproportionately hard, yet their vaccination rates are less than half that of white people.

The Biden administration this month launched a multimillion-dollar promotional campaign targeting communities where vaccine hesitancy is high and asked 275 organizations — from the NAACP to Ciencia Puerto Rico — to spread the word about vaccine safety and effectiveness. One ad is in Spanish and another aimed at Black Americans is narrated by the historian Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Rumors that the vaccines could cause infertility or the shots could inject a government tracking chip are commonly heard in the Black and Latino communities. They have a long history of facing racism in the health care system, eroding their trust.

“I see a lot of similarities in how violent radicalization takes place and the current bout of disinformation around the pandemic and vaccination,” Hasnain said. “Similar to how radicalization works, there is an echo chamber created where distrust of authority figures is inculcated.”

Adding to it is concerns about the safety of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The US government paused the shots to investigate reports of rare but potentially dangerous blood clots.

Millions of doses of the J&J vaccine have been given in the US, the vast majority with no or mild side effects. But the questions stemming from six cases could complicate efforts to win over people who are already hesitant and it was unclear how pro-vaccine advocates would respond to the latest challenge.

Hasnain’s company is pressing forward with releasing Tuesday its latest Spanish-language animation targeting young Latinos. The animated stories are produced with Gilberto Lopez, a researcher and associate professor at Arizona State University’s School of Transborder Studies. Lopez said young Latino men are especially reluctant to get vaccinated.

The latest animation is set to hip-hop rhythms and features a know-it-all Uncle Rigo who spouts unfounded claims that a cool female doctor dispels.

“The silver lining of the lessons from the pandemic is this is a chance to reimagine the delivery of health care to our communities,” said Dr. Stephen B. Thomas, who runs the Maryland Center for Health Equity at the University of Maryland School of Public Health.

He works with Black and Latino barbershops and beauty salons to talk about vaccine safety. The program recently licensed three barbers as community health advocates.

“Black barbershops and beauty salons can be places of conspiracy theories that grow and thrive, or places where evidence-based science and referrals are done,” said Thomas, who initially launched the Health Advocates In-Reach and Research initiative — or HAIR — to educate people about chronic diseases like diabetes.

At the Shop Hair Spa in Hyattsville, Maryland, outside Washington, DC, a colorful box asking, “What is your health question?” is posted next to the prices for cuts. COVID-19 vaccine information is displayed on a red wall behind a salon chair.

Barber Wallace Wilson said he understands people’s reservations about getting vaccinated.

“I’m still skeptical about it, you know, because of the simple fact that I’m an African American male and when you look at history, we’ve been used as guinea pigs,” Wilson said.

He was referring to a 40-year study by the US government that tracked Black men infected with syphilis without treating them so scientists could observe the disease take its course.

Customer James McRae shared his skepticism. But Wilson told McRae that this time is different because it’s not just the US government vaccinating people, it’s the world and everyone needs to do their part.

“I want everybody to be safe,” Wilson said, carefully maneuvering a razor near the straps of McRae’s red polka-dot mask.

McRae agreed but was still leery, vowing to let God decide.

Experts say any trust will evaporate if people decide to get a shot and then can’t. Wilson has been on a wait list for more than a month.

Dr. Fermin Leguen, head of the Southern Nevada Health District in Las Vegas, knows how much words matter.

With information about the virus rapidly changing, the agency resorted to an automated translator to keep up. One slogan “Mask Up, Back Up, Wash Up” was translated in Spanish to say, “To Mask, Support, To Wash Oneself.”

Leguen, who was born in Cuba, meets with Spanish-language media outlets after his weekly briefings as a way to get better information to people.

In San Diego, Ana Castro was among the ethnically and racially diverse contact tracers with no prior health training hired last summer to help immigrants, refugees and racial minorities who may have been exposed to COVID-19.

Castro knew the difficulties of the people she called. She was caring for her Mexican mother, who was bedridden with COVID-19.

Now, she and others are calling back 10,000 people to talk about the vaccine and line up appointments.

“It allows for a conversation, which is missing doing broad messaging,” said Corinne McDaniels-Davidson, director of the Institute for Public Health at San Diego State University, which created the program with the county health department. “People need to feel they have reasonable and valid concerns that are addressed in their own language from people from their same culture.”

Among Castro’s first callbacks was to a man she found had died of COVID-19. Castro and his 81-year-old wife spoke for half an hour as the woman shared memories about her husband.

“I’m not just calling to sign people up to get the vaccine,” she said. “I’m also making sure their emotional and physical well-being is being taken care of.”

Health experts hope credible messengers will get more shots in arms.

Bertha Morales was hesitant even though she works for a health clinic in Phoenix. Her relatives insisted the vaccine would insert a tracking chip into her body or cause her to get sick and die.

Then her employer offered a Spanish-language online talk that knocked down those rumors. She’s now fully vaccinated.

“I think the thing that really made me change was that I wanted to see my grandma but I didn’t want to cause her to get sick,” Morales said. “It had been so long.”

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Snorkeler finds wedding ring stuck on fish

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Snorkeler finds wedding ring stuck on fish

It looks like somebody just made some random fish the happiest fish in the world.

A snorkeler recently shared an unusual discovery she made during a recent trip underwater. According to her, it’s not uncommon to see certain types of fish with various pieces of garbage stuck around their necks.

Recently, however, she came across a fish that was wearing a wedding ring.

Susan Prior was snorkeling in Emily Bay, which is located on an island off the eastern coast of Australia, People reports. According to the environmental conservationist, she came across a sand mullet that had a gold ring around its neck.

According to the snorkeler, sand mullets sort through the sand while looking for food. It’s possible that this particular fish swam through the ring and got it stuck on its body.

It wasn’t until Prior returned to land, however, that she remembered a post on the community social media page. Apparently, a man had recently lost his wedding ring in the same area.

She was reportedly able to get in touch with the man and they both believe that it’s likely that this fish is swimming around with the man’s missing wedding ring.

Apparently, Prior is willing to try and relocate the fish and, along with a group of fishermen, attempt to catch it with a net. Then, she’d likely be able to remove the ring and return it to its owner. She reportedly described this as “difficult,” so there’s no guarantee that it will work.

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Florida fisherman chased by 11-foot alligator in scary video

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Florida fisherman chased by 11-foot alligator in scary video

A Florida fisherman became the bait when he was chased by an alligator in the Everglades.

GoPro video captured the near-death experience when Tommy Lee was tarpon fishing on May 8.

The 22-year-old was recording himself fishing at sunrise when an 11-foot bull alligator swam onshore. As Lee backed up, the reptile chased him through the brush, getting too close for comfort.

It “stalked me then chased me,” he told ViralHog. “The gator appeared much larger and closer in person. It got within 10 feet of me.”

At one heart-pounding moment, Lee tripped and fell to the ground, but quickly regained his footing and continued to back up.

In the two-minute video, you can hear the frazzled fisherman exclaiming, “Jesus Christ. You gotta be careful here.” But as he lost sight of the deadly creature, he retraced his steps following the animal until it splashed back in the water.

“And I am out of here,” Lee said to himself before grabbing his gear and turning off the camera.

Lee uploaded the shocking clip to his YouTube channel, Chum Dumpster, where it amassed 1.2 million views.

However, it isn’t too surprising that the sharp-toothed creature came out to play. May and June mark mating season for the more than one million alligators that live in Florida.

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KFC hackers jailed in China over $31,000 worth of chicken

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KFC hackers jailed in China over $31,000 worth of chicken

The Chinese students who scored a five-finger-lickin’ discount at Kentucky Fried Chicken — for a total of $31,000 worth of food — are going to prison.

Their scam took place in 2018 after one of them discovered a glitch on KFC’s online order platform, allowing them access to an endless supply of fried chicken.

The five college con artists involved in the grift were handed down a range of sentences by the People’s Court of Xuhui District in Shanghai, from 13 to 30 months, according to Daily Mail and recent Chinese-language reports, with fines set between $150 (1,000 yuan) and $900 (6,000 yuan).

“Being fully aware of this bug, the convicted deliberately engaged in false transactions and illegally profited from them, which constituted the crime of fraud,” court papers read, according to Australia’s 9News.

The group’s 23-year-old ringleader, identified only as “Xu,” defrauded the company out of some $9,000 (58,000 yuan). All told, they stole more than $31,000 (129,000 yuan) worth of food from Yum! Brands, which owns the KFC name.

The simple scheme involved a loophole between KFC’s app and the restaurant’s page on Chinese social network WeChat, which allowed Xu to use a voucher for free food while also being refunded. It’s been reported that Xu later began shilling out the free food he’d reaped as a side hustle.

The case has reportedly sparked debate online, according to Global Times, with some saying that a bug in KFC’s order system is on the corporation — not the customers who reaped the spoils of their mistake.

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