Remember those ‘Arrest The Cops Who Killed Breonna Taylor’ T-shirts that were everywhere last summer? Now the woman behind them is promoting a new message.
Before they decided to connect to urge people to get vaccinated against COVID-19, Meena Harris and Demi Lovato didn’t personally know each other. They just – to quote the entrepreneur’s camp – had a “mutual admiration of each other’s work.”
The product of that love from afar is the Pro-Vaxxer campaign – a line of T-shirts and sweatshirts designed to draw attention to facts, not misinformation, about getting immunized against the novel coronavirus.
“I’ve always admired her talent,” Meena, 36, says of the 28-year-old popstar. “[Whenever] she decides to take something on, she’s an effective advocate. From mental health to racial justice to LGBTQIA+ rights, from climate justice to justice for immigrants, she consistently uses her voice and platform in a meaningful way.”
“Seeing the spread of misinformation about the vaccine online, Demi wanted to use her platform to share truthful, easily accessible information about vaccine safety – and also to raise funds to help Black and Brown communities, which have been hardest hit by COVID-19,” the mom-of-two added. “When Demi and I found out we had a shared interest in building a campaign on this topic, it felt like a natural fit to work together.”
When it comes to raising awareness for a cause that she’s passionate about, Pro-Vaxxer isn’t Meena’s first rodeo. The native Californian (and children’s author) is the brains behind the Phenomenal brand, which is responsible for a series of T-shirts and campaigns beloved by celebs. Those Phenomenal Woman and Arrest The Cops Who Killed Breonna Taylor tees that you’ve seen celebs like Kandi Burruss, Regina King and Halle Berry wear? Those are Meena’s. Fighting the wild conspiracy theories about the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines that are floating around the Internet is just her latest cause.
“Spreading lies about vaccines will only prolong this pandemic, get more people sick with COVID, and – inevitably – cost lives. That’s the bottom line,” says Meena, whose aunt is Vice President Kamala Harris. “And what upsets me more than anything is that there are plenty of people who know this, and who even believe in vaccines and get vaccinated themselves, but who continue to engage in disinformation as a political weapon.
“It’s such a massive betrayal of the public trust. And once this stuff is out there it just spreads like a weed and becomes so, so hard to refute.”
This week alone has seen some shocking anti-vaccine messages that President Joe Biden’s administration has had to push back on. For example, on April 28, Dr. Anthony Fauci – the nation’s top infectious disease expert and POTUS’ chief medical advisor – slapped down podcaster Joe Rogan, who told his listeners if they’re 21 they shouldn’t get vaccinated. “Well, that’s incorrect,” Dr. Fauci told TODAY, before pointing out that that unvaccinated 21-year-old could “inadvertently and innocently…infect someone else…”
For Meena, getting her first jab on April 5 made her feel “surprisingly emotional.” “It couldn’t have been easier!” she says about the experience. “And I’ll admit, I was not fully prepared for how relieved and grateful I felt afterwards.”
“I didn’t have side effects other than some mild arm pain,” she adds, “but I hear the second dose is what gets a lot of people. So, fingers crossed. But honestly, I’ve never been more excited to maybe feel under the weather for a few hours.”
Once she’s fully vaccinated Meena is hopeful for the future. “I can’t wait to have safe, fully-vaccinated get-togethers,” she says. “Because I believe strongly that we all have to do our part to help stop the spread and finally bring this pandemic to an end. Right now, getting vaccinated is by far the best way to do that.”
While Demi and Meena’s Pro-Vaxxer campaign is trying to fight disinformation, it’s also calling for equity when it comes to access to vaccines within Black and Brown communities, which have disproportionately borne the brunt of COVID-19 deaths according to the CDC.
“The more we raise awareness, and the louder we call for greater accessibility and equitability in vaccine distribution, the more this message – that the vaccines are free, available, safe, and effective – will hopefully break through,” says Meena who is also working with Higher Heights (a non-profit focusing on Black women and progressive politics) on the Pro-Vaxxer campaign.
That said, she doesn’t expect people who are hesitant about getting vaccinated to magically overcome those feelings. That’s why she urges people to turn to credible sources.
“It’s totally natural to have questions – and there are some great, credible, scientifically-rigorous places you can go to find answers and get other resources. For instance, the CDC has a pretty great explainer,” she says, referencing the center’s Vaccinate With Confidence Q&A page.
As for those Pro-Vaxxer sweatshirts, they can be found on the Phenomenal Woman website. “Obviously, everybody is entitled to make their own healthcare decisions,” Meena says. “But the science couldn’t be clearer: these vaccines have been tested around the world. They’ve been administered to hundreds of millions of people. The right thing to do – for yourself, for the people you love, and for the sake of ending this pandemic – is to get vaccinated as soon as you possibly can.”