A recent survey on Blackdoctor.org (BDO) revealed a staggering 58% of the respondents wouldn’t take a COVID-19 vaccination as soon as it’s available. In addition to 58% saying “no” to the vaccine, 22% reported they would take the vaccine, but had “concerns”. In total, 80% of respondents either said “no” or had “concerns” regarding taking a COVID-19 vaccine with the majority saying “no” because they “didn’t trust the healthcare system”. For any vaccine to work and be validated, it needs to create herd immunity, which is a protective effect created by a significant portion of a community being vaccinated. That leads to the question, “How can the results of a vaccine be considered valid without being taken by the population most affected by it?”
Black Americans represent a disproportionate number of positive cases and deaths associated with coronavirus. These facts make it logical for Black Americans to want to receive a vaccination as soon as it’s available. Unfortunately, there is a long history of distrust between Black Americans and the medical community. This distrust gets exacerbated when the government is involved in the research, creation, and dissemination of the vaccine.
BDO recognizes this distrust is real and warranted. From the Tuskegee Experiment, to Henrietta Lacks, to general biases causing misdiagnosis, Black Americans don’t use medical care as frequently as mainstream America. This lack of engagement has shown to be consistent, regardless of age or socioeconomic status. To overcome distrust and get more Black Americans to engage in new treatments or vaccinations, BDO recommends the following:
- Information must appear on a trusted platform
- Messaging must be authentic, and the experts should look like them
- Content must also be based on Black Americans’ truths
BDO Chief Marketing Officer Derrick Lane said that the idea for the survey came from social media where people made comments about being hesitant to take a COVID-19 vaccine. BDO posted the survey on their website in July.
“We saw that there were a lot of comments around COVID and the vaccine,” Lane said. “We decided to just go ahead and put it out there because we know that there needs to be some sort of resolution to tackle COVID. But there’s this 500lb elephant in the room when it comes to vaccines and the African American community.”
The elephant Lane is referring to are the numerous medical experiences that have backfired on the Black community throughout history. Most notably the Tuskegee Experiment, a clinical study conducted between 1932 and 1972 where nearly 400 Black men were given syphilis and untreated and Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman who had cell samples taken from her cervix in 1951 without her permission or knowledge for cancer research.
“The top reason is they don’t trust the current health care system,” Lane said. “In the comments we received, a lot of people refer to the Tuskegee Experiment as one of the main things that is still haunting the African American community and they don’t trust being the guinea pig.”
The issue of a COVID vaccine in the Black community came up during a recent televised interview where Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris. She was asked who, under her administration, would get the vaccine first.
“When we have a vaccine, those communities that are most in need, will get them,” she replied.
A COVID-19 vaccine has already been introduced in Russia. American drugmaker AstraZeneca announced this week that a vaccine is now in advanced trials. Health experts say a vaccine will likely be available in early 2021. Nationally, polls reveal that about 50% of Americans say they plan on taking it.
What would change people’s minds about getting a COVID vaccine? Lane says having trusted sources not forcing people to take it.
“You just have to give people the facts,” he said. “You need to have a trusted partner in the African American community in order to deliver the information. We are a community that speaks for themselves and we want to give people the unadulterated truth about what it can and it can’t do. We also need people to step up and want to take it.”
New York Amsterdam News contributed to this story.