The New Jersey Department of Homeland Security issued an urgent warning Wednesday afternoon regarding vaccine disinformation, alleging that groups are purposely spreading false information.
The state's DHS said they are concerned about disinformation not only on social media, but also whisper campaigns done in an effort to scare people away from getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
The department said that the campaign comes from people both from New Jersey and outside it, with the goal being to use fears to "sow discord" throughout the country. The DHS also tried to dispel three more common myths, including that the vaccine could be fatal, alters DNA or actually infects recipients with the coronavirus.
"I'll say declaratively that Russia is behind a lot of this, China has behind some of this, no question there on our end," said New Jersey Office of Homeland Security Director Jared Maples. "They're trying to cause discontent, foment chaos."
Maples also pointed to domestic extremist groups — some linked to the deadly riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6. White supremacists have used platforms for anti-Semitic, anti-government rants. The Nation of Islam has also jumped into the conspiracy fray, Maples believes. He said the group put out advisories that the vaccine would "hurt people, sterilize communities. All these different tropes that are out there, we see that as a problem."
When asked if they believe the vaccine is harmful, some outside a supermarket in Paterson said they thought it was possible that the shot could be harmful. One man said it has made him hesitant to receive the vaccine, and a woman said she wanted more research done on its safety.
Community leaders and clergy throughout the state are trying to reach out to residents, making a personal plea to try and debunk those myths in an effort to get more people vaccinated.