UTRGV vaccine information campaign combats conspiracies

The COVID-19 vaccine is not a medium of control such as implanting a microchip in the blood, UTRGV School of Medicine Dean Dr. John Krouse said during a question and answer session posted to Facebook Live on Monday afternoon.

He hadn’t understood the question at first, when someone asked if the vaccine had a tracker device. He’d responded that shipments of the vaccine were in fact tracked and that their temperature was monitored when they left distribution centers and arrived at vaccination sites, describing the sophistication of the system created to ship the drugs across the country with a note of pride.

Next time Krouse was asked the question it was more specific.

“Not tracked as in ground-level transportation, is the vaccine a medium of control such as implanting a microchip in the blood,” asked Reyna Rosa, a tutor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s learning center.

Krouse read the question back and answered it politely and professionally, the same way he answered dozens of other questions Monday.

“No … none of us have any concern that this is an X-Files type of conspiracy,” he said. “None of us are getting a microchip when we’re getting injected with the drug. Again, there’s a lot of misinformation, there’s a lot of conspiracy theories out there, but this is not a way of having all of us tracked by putting some sort of tracker into our bloodstreams.”

Krouse fielded 45 minutes of questions on the vaccine and how it will be distributed Monday, assuaging concerns and giving what insight he could in an effort to combat misinformation and conspiracy theories about the vaccine rollout, something he says he’s genuinely concerned about.

“It’s unfortunate that there are individuals who are giving information that’s factually incorrect, that is against the evidence as we know it — that’s against the guidance of all of the leaders across the country, independent of what their affiliation or political party is,” he said. “I think we need to be guided by evidence. I think we need to be guided by the instruction of our most knowledgeable individuals, scientists and physicians, and I think we need to follow the results.”

Rosa did not respond to requests for comment, and it’s not clear whether she was making a joke, pointing out a misconception she’d seen elsewhere or genuinely believes that the 1,500 individuals the university has already vaccinated are victims of an Orwellian scheme to control society.

What is clear from Krouse’s comments and the questions he was asked Monday is that disseminating information about the shot will be critical for the university as it intensifies vaccination efforts across the Valley — and those efforts are intensifying.

According to Krouse, the university is expecting to receive 900 doses of the Moderna vaccine this week, likely by Tuesday. He says the university’s vaccination program will be extended to Cameron County before the end of the month and to rural areas after the first.

“We will be able to receive vaccines both from Pfizer and from Moderna on a weekly basis,” he said.

Krouse said over 100 people at UT Health and the university are dedicated to the vaccination program.

A healthcare worker receives the COVID-19 vaccine, which was administered by a nurse, at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance on Thursday. (Delcia Lopez | [email protected])

“This is a major, major, project for the school of medicine,” he said. “It has not been since the polio epidemic and the arrival of the polio vaccine in the mid-1950s where there has been this type of mass vaccination campaign at the federal and state level, so it’s a historic time.”

Out of the 1,500 front-line medical personnel, EMTs, home health workers and healthcare providers the university has vaccinated, Krouse says two were affected by mild allergic reactions. Krouse, who has received the vaccine, described it as safe and the chances of severe side effects as very low.

Despite that, Krouse says he’s noticed hesitancy among some people who are already eligible to receive the vaccine. Around 90% of his medical staff have been vaccinated, he said, but only about 60% of the people the university has offered the vaccine to have elected to get the shot.

Krouse says that’s OK.

“There are people who say, ‘I want to get vaccinated, but I’d really like to wait a little bit. I’d like to wait a month or two and see what happens,’” he said. “And that’s fine. Again, this is your own personal judgment, this is something you are the best-abled person to understand your own needs.”

Ultimately, Krouse says the goal is to vaccinate at least three quarters of the community. He says vaccination rates will play a role in when on-campus instruction resumes at UTRGV, hopefully by the fall of 2021.

“Ideally, we are shooting for a target of 75%,” he said. “It is generally felt by public health experts that if we can get to a 75% vaccination rate that we will get to that concept, the principle of what we call herd immunity. Herd immunity is where enough of the population is vaccinated that they just don’t freely transmit it to each other and it tends to die out.”

Vaccination will not be required by the university, Krouse said, although he certainly would recommend people take it when it’s available.

Many of the dean’s answers from Monday’s video addresses questions about when the vaccine may be available to certain groups, along with information on dosage, insurance, potential short term side effects, vaccine shelf life and the drug’s efficacy.

That video is available on the UTRGV Facebook page.

“I would strongly encourage you — strongly encourage you — that when you have the opportunity to receive the vaccine, do it,” Krouse said. “This is going to be the best way we have to see us getting back to a normal lifestyle, to a normal course.”

More information on UT Health Rio Grande Valley’s vaccine rollout and the drug itself is available at https://uthealthrgv.org/covidvaccine


Editor’s note: A previous version incorrectly said that out of the 1,500 individuals vaccinated by UTRGV 1,500 had experienced mild allergic reactions. Out of those 1,500 individuals only two experienced mild allergic reactions.