Many black and low-income communities say they are hesitant to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as misinformation continues to spread online. Studies show black Americans are far less likely to get their shot than other racial groups. To encourage more African Americans to sign up for their shots, 60 of the country’s most prominent black doctors and healthcare professionals are speaking up.
Spreading the Word
The 60 influential care providers addressed the struggle to get more black Americans vaccinated in a recent op-ed in the New York Times. Led by Thomas A. LaVeist, a medical sociologist and the dean of the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine at Tulane University, and Georges C. Benjamin, a physician and the executive director of the American Public Health Association, the group was made up of doctors, nurses, and scientists from around the U.S.
They took the opportunity to talk about the risks facing black Americans today, including the fact that they are around 1.5x more likely to die from COVID-19 than white Americans.
So, why are fewer black Americans getting their shots? The authors lay the blame on social media playing on themes of distrust.
“Disinformation about the coronavirus and vaccines has pervaded social media, feeding on long-held and absolutely warranted distrust of health institutions in black communities. The lies are an assault on our people, and it threatens to destroy us,” the article states.
A survey from the Kaiser Health Foundation shows that 43% of African Americans are taking a wait-and-see approach to getting their shots, 8% of participants said they would only get one if it was required by law, 14% said they would “definitely not” get a vaccination, and just 35% said they would get or already have been vaccinated.
This means that “Black Americans are still receiving COVID-19 vaccinations at dramatically lower rates than white Americans,” according to the survey.
According to Dr. Brittani James who works in the south side of Chicago, a predominantly black neighborhood:
“It is not paranoia, it is not that black people don’t ‘get it’ or are simply uneducated and unintelligent about their health. The reality is that their worries have been earned and will not be corrected until medicine and public health and the government reckon with the past and what has been done to black and brown people.”
Building Trust in the Shot
The authors of the article point out that the vaccine was developed at least in part by several black scientists. Black people also served on the advisory board at the Food and Drug Administration, which was tasked with approving the drug for emergency use.
The black doctors and scientists also wrote that they took the time to evaluate the available safety data on the vaccines and have concluded that it was done safely and correctly. They also add that the clinical trial included a diverse group of patients, including those of black, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American descent.
It will likely take more than one article to convince black people that say they are hesitant to get the vaccine, yet the authors are asking members of the community to weigh the risks:
“While we understand why there might be hesitancy about getting vaccinated, we need to weigh the risks of taking the vaccine versus being infected by the virus and the potential of health problems, hospitalization, even death.”
They also admit they don’t know everything about the long-term effects of the vaccine, but they are familiar with the long-term effects of COVID-19, including lasting fatigue, mental fog, and, in some cases, chronic pain.
The fact that all 60 of these providers came together to write this article shows how serious the problem has become. If black Americans continue to hold off getting vaccinated, these health disparities will likely only get worse.
The letter ends with a clear message for all black Americans:
“We encourage you to claim your place in line to get vaccinated. Do this for yourself. Do this for our community. We are asking you to trust our advice because we are a part of you. And together we can save lives.”
These providers aren’t the only ones calling for equity in the rollout of the vaccine. Former President Obama recently tweeted, “There is a lot of disinformation out there, but here’s the truth: You should get a COVID vaccine as soon as it’s available to you. It could save your life—or a loved one’s,” while including a link to the op-ed.