Misinformation and disinformation are the primary drivers for vaccine hesitancy in the African American and Latino neighborhoods.

Dr. Cameron Webb and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, two senior members of the White House COVID-19 Response Team, spoke to the Black Press in a live interview about vaccine hesitancy and the progress made in minority communities.

Webb, the senior policy adviser for COVID-19 equity and a physician and professor at the University of Virginia, dissected vaccine hesitancy using what he called the three C’s – complacency, confidence, and convenience.

“Hesitancy as a concept is three different things in one,” Webb explained.

“Complacency – not getting sick from this, not a big problem, not that worried. Confidence – in the institution offering the vaccine and safety and trusting the government to get vaccinated. Convenience – having real access and making sure that the vaccine is coming to where it needs.”

Dr. Webb continued:

“When you put those together, those three things come together to form vaccine hesitancy in the Black community. We see the dynamics playing out. Instead of saying, here’s why you should get vaccinated, let me hear why you’re still thinking about it, why are you in a wait and see mode.

“That’s the posture we have to take, and that’s how we get to more and more ‘yes.’ That’s how we’ve gotten folks in the Black community to get to the ‘yes,’ and we have to continue to see that trend.”

Dr. Nunez-Smith, the director of the White House’s COVID-19 Equity Task Force and associate professor of internal medicine, public health, and management at Yale University, added that individuals should cautiously seek trusted voices in their respective communities who only present life-saving facts.

Both physicians noted that the Biden-Harris administration is not only meeting but exceeding expectations of making vaccines available to all communities.

“We see misinformation all of the time and folks ask questions that are rooted in disinformation,” Dr. Webb declared.

“As it gets spread from person to person, from family to family, and friend to friend, it’s so important for the Black Press to tell the story of what is happening on the ground. Grandmothers can spend time with their grandchildren again. These vaccines are a key path to get back to normal life. Science bears out that these vaccines are safe. The real risk is COVID-19, the virus, not the vaccine.”

President Biden recently announced a goal of vaccinating at least 70 percent of the adult U.S. population by July 4.

With more than 105 million vaccinated to date, the goal is viewed by many as well within reach.

“Ultimately, we’re trying to get everyone vaccinated who are medically able to,” Dr. Nunez-Smith stated.

“What I stress is that this has to be a community-level goal, too,” she said. “It’s about getting everyone in our social network, our community vaccinated.”

Dr. Webb pointed to each of the three vaccines – Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. He said each has proven safe.

“They work a little different, but each teaches your body how to recognize the threat of COVID-19,” Dr. Webb noted.

“[The vaccines] are not giving you the virus. It’s teaching your body how to recognize the bad guy – the virus. We have great data, and before they ever made it to market, over 75,000 people went through clinical trials and over 10 percent were Black, and in one trial, over 20 percent were Latino. We have 105 million people vaccinated, and the data we have tells us that it is safe.”

Part of the vaccine hesitancy lies in the belief that vaccinations had become politicized, and many did not have confidence in the review process, Nunez-Smith remarked.

“Those processes are transparent, and we should have high confidence,” she demanded. “There is diverse representation in the trials and the scientists who were a part of the review process.”

Dr. Nunez-Smith also referred to the “rigorous” systems behind the surveillance of the vaccines.

“When we talk about the J&J vaccine, one of the takeaways is that it strengthened my confidence in how the surveillance works,” she said.

“Almost 8 million doses were administered, but they found those six cases of blood clots, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention paused it to review the data and to figure out how to treat the blood clots and to let the people know what symptoms might present. No steps were skipped.”

As for the number of minorities receiving the vaccine, the task force members said the numbers are grossly misreported.

“We do have an idea how many Black people have received the vaccine,” Dr. Webb responded. “The reporting shows that a little less than 9 percent where we know their ethnicity are Black, 12 percent are Hispanic. However, there is a lot of missing data. For about 40 percent of the shots in the arms, we don’t know the ethnicity or race because it hasn’t always been re-quired data. We have been working closely with states on that.”

Dr. Webb concluded:

“We also can look by zip codes and the concentration of communities of color. We know we still have work to do and ground to make up, but in terms of precise numbers, we still have missing data.”

Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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