Coalition of Black Health Professionals Is Working to Break Distrust of Vaccines As COVID-19 Continues to Disproportionately Affect Black Americans
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A new survey reveals that Black and Latinx communities are not exactly trustful of a coronavirus vaccine, even if it were offered free of charge. The study dove into vaccine hesitancy in communities of color, which have been hit especially hard by the deadly pandemic.
The survey-based student, which was conducted Sept. 1 through 15 and released on Nov. 23, showed Black and Latinx communities have low trust of a vaccine’s safety and effectiveness. It found that only 14 percent of Black people and 34 percent of Latinos trust the vaccine will be safe. Slightly more people –– 18 percent of Black people and 40 percent of Latinos –– trust its effectiveness.
Trust in a vaccine will be critical as the country faces a dangerous spike in cases during a second wave of the pandemic. According to The Washington Post, infectious disease specialists say that a large portion of the U.S. population will need to be vaccinated to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Communities of color have been particularly hard-hit by the virus, with high rates of infection and deaths, and will need to vaccinate to stop the virus’ effects. But there is lingering distrust of vaccines and the mainstream medical community as a whole, especially by the Black community.
Medical Distrust in the Black Community
The North Star spoke to Dr. Reed Tuckson, founder of the Black Coalition Against COVID-19, and Dr. Melissa Clarke, a member of the coalition, about this distrust and what is being done to improve trust in the vaccine. The coalition has been working since the beginning of the pandemic to spread information and resources to Black Americans in the DC area and around the country.
Tuckson and Clarke said there were several reasons for the distrust against a COVID-19 vaccine and the medical field in general by the Black community. Tuckson cited the “very bitter legacy” of the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, the mistreatment of Henrietta Lacks’ biology by Hopkins and the horrific experiments conducted on Black women without anesthesia by James Marion Sims, the “father of gynecology,” as the basis of this distrust.
“There’s been a long history in this country of medical abuse and experimentation without consent in the African American community all the way up from enslavement all the way up through the Tuskegee experiments,” Clarke told TNS. “That coupled with a general distrust of medicine because of, again, historically not necessarily getting the best quality care in certain communities –– either because of lack of access to care through insurance of maldistribution of providers or even when you go to the providers, lack of cultural competency, lack of valuing Black lives, lack of understanding…
“So there’s been ample reason for the African American community to distrust messaging and what appears to be solutions from the mainstream medical community, compound that with the fact that there has been confusing messaging around the coronavirus and the coronavirus prevention measures,” Clarke added.
The two doctors noted that there is also an active misinformation campaign being led by Russian groups that spread conspiracies around the vaccine. This anti-vaxx campaign is targeting Black communities to dissuade people from taking vaccines in general, and now the COVID-19 vaccine.
Black Coalition Against COVID-19
That’s where the Black Coalition Against COVID-19 comes in. Dr. Tuckson explained that the coalition was able to bring together several community-based influencers to “use and mobilize every asset we could find to encourage the community to follow the guidance of mask wearing, social distancing and handwashing.”
To spread the message, the coalition led community-based events and activities, including city-wide poetry slams. A few months ago, the coalition used its platform to host a day of remembrance to allow families who have lost loved ones to COVID to grieve and pay tribute.
It also joined forces with the four historically Black medical schools, the National Medical Association, the National Black Nurses Association and several news organizations to host town halls answering people’s questions and providing much needed information. So far, the coalition has hosted two town halls and plans to air a third nationwide on December 18.
Tuckson said it was important for the Black community to know that it is being represented in all stages of the vaccine’s development. He noted that Black doctors and scientists have participated in the town halls. For its second town hall, the coalition brought on Peter Marks, who is responsible for signing off on vaccines’ safety and efficacy at the FDA, to show the community who they can hold accountable.
“We’re really finding that there is a hunger on the part of the community for trusted voices who can give them information. That they can respond to their questions and their concerns, and that respond to them in an accountable way with credibility and a clear sense that these people have the best interest of the community at heart,” Tuckson said.
Clarke told TNS that the coalition recently released a Love Letter to Black America to emphasize the fact that Black lives matter.
“We as health professionals [are] doing this out of love for our people to ensure that they get the right information in a timely manner and [the] opportunity to ask questions and get the necessary support that they need to make decisions about their health, especially when it comes to COVID-19 and the availability of a safe and effective vaccine,” she said.
Will Americans Take a COVID-19 Vaccine?
Tuckson told TNS that he believes it’s going to be difficult to convince all Americans, not just the Black community, that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe.
“I think that over time, yes, we will be successful because the alternative is unthinkable,” he said. Tuckson noted that not only is the pandemic disastrous for the Black community in terms of the death rate, but in terms of the economic and educational toll. A vaccine will help mitigate those effects.
Clarke was blunt about the need for Black Americans to move on from past trauma to ensure COVID-19 does not kill more members of the community.
“What I would say about the vaccine that as an African American community, we have every reason to be historically distrustful, however, because of the rate at which this disease is killing us, we have to move on from our trauma regarding the medical establishment and realize that now there are many African American health professionals involved at every level of that vaccine development,” she said. “So try to approach this with as open mind as possible.”
Tuckson, meanwhile, emphasized the need to follow health guidance to keep the virus from spreading, especially during the holidays.
“I think the most important thing right now, today, is that we are facing the next few weeks and months are going to be extraordinarily painful for our community as this virus is now clearly on the upswing in terms of this dissemination throughout the community,” Tuckson said. “As a result, the most important thing we can do is we really must continue to be totally faithful with wearing our masks. We must continue to comply with the physical distancing rule and the hand-washing, but above all, if you truly love your family, this is the year not to kill your family by your presence.”
At the end of each story we publish about the coronavirus, we are now sharing the following information:
The novel coronavirus, officially named SARS-CoV-2, is a virus that causes a number of respiratory illnesses, including lung lesions and pneumonia. The virus, which causes COVID-19, spreads easily from person to person through the air when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes.
COVID-19 originated in Wuhan, China and has spread to 191 countries. More than 59.59 million people around the world have become infected and more than 1.40 million people have died. On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a worldwide pandemic.
President Donald Trump declared the COVID-19 outbreak a national emergency on March 13. Less than two weeks later, on March 26, the United States surpassed China in the number of COVID-19 cases. The U.S. now has 12.54 million confirmed cases and more than 259,000 deaths.
On October 2, President Trump announced that he and First Lady Melania Trump tested positive for COVID-19.
Symptoms of COVID-19 can take between two to 14 days to appear. The CDC recommends calling your doctor if you think you have been exposed to COVID-19 and develop symptoms, including fever, cough and difficulty breathing. Other symptoms include chills, repeated shaking, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and new loss of taste or smell.
In order to keep yourself and others safe, be sure to wash your hands frequently, practice social distancing and avoid touching your face. The CDC is recommending that gatherings of 50 people or more be canceled for the next eight weeks. Click here for information on how to prepare for a quarantine.
About the Author
Nicole Rojas is a senior writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored the Americas, Asia, Australia and Europe.