“They’ve read all this stuff online, from different news sources, which is confusing. But then they meet me, as someone who has had the shot, and I can give them some real answers.” — Armando Mateos of Working Partnerships USA, a Silicon Valley-based community organization working to help dispel misinformation about the pandemic and vaccines
A strong majority of Black and Americans are confident in the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine and are ready to take it, according to a new poll commissioned by the National Urban League and The Alliance of National Psychological Associations for Racial and Ethnic Equity.
These findings run counter to a “blame the victim” media narrative that pins the appalling racial disparity in vaccination rates on Black hesitancy to take the vaccine.
Only 14% of Black Americans polled said they “definitely” would not get the vaccine, and 15% said they “probably” would not. Yet the Black share of the vaccinated population is lower than the Black general population in every state that has reported demographic data. According to an analysis by The New York Times, the Black vaccination rate is half the white rate.
Access, not hesitancy, is the reason for this disparity, as Rep. Karen Bass, psychologist and professor Cheryl Grills and I discussed in an op-ed recently published in The Washington Post.
Among those who are hesitant, however, information is key: Overall, more than a fifth of Blacks said they have heard, seen or read something that made them less likely to take the vaccine. Among those who said they definitely or probably would not take the vaccine, 55% had consumed negative information about it.
Negative information about the vaccine mostly centered on safety concerns, side effects and skepticism about how quickly the vaccine was developed and approved.
This corresponds with recent reporting that Black and Hispanic communities are confronting vaccine conspiracy theories, rumors and misleading news reports on social media. YouTube revealed this week it has taken down more than 30,000 videos that made misleading or false claims about COVID-19 vaccines over the past six months.
Our poll found that concerns about the safety of the vaccine are the primary barrier among Blacks who don’t intend to vaccinate. Of that group, nearly 60% agreed that “the vaccine is too new, I want to wait and see how it works for others.” More than a third were concerned “that people of color are being used as test subjects.”
Our challenge, then, is to employ trusted messengers such as public health professionals, community leaders and friends and neighbors to address those concerns attesting to the vaccine’s safety. I was proud to join a group of trusted clergy in my own community who received the vaccine publicly in an effort to build trust.
These efforts are working. Hairstylist Katrina Randolph is part of the Health In-Reach and Research Initiative (HAIR), a network of barbershops and beauty salons working with the Maryland Center for Health Equity at the University of Maryland School of Public Health.
“At first, 75% of my clients were saying, ‘I’m not going to get the vaccination,’” Randolph said. “But as we had these conversations and I told them things that I was being educated about, they began to do research and then they felt more comfortable with the vaccination. Now I hear from 90% of my clients, ‘I can’t wait to get vaccinated.’”
Morial is president/CEO of the National Urban League.