COVID-19 Vaccine for African Americans; Whether They Will Get a Vaccine; Barriers; Hesitations; and Where They Feel Comfortable To Go Get a Vaccine

Surveys reveal that African Americans are the most hesitant to get a COVID-19 vaccine. The Associated Press survey reveals that only 22% of African Americans plan to get the vaccine once it becomes available. Caucasian Americans are also skeptical about the vaccine but to a lesser degree than African Americans. The Kaiser survey reveals that 37% of Caucasian Americans will get the vaccine. African Americans are hesitant in getting the vaccine because of their safety concerns and lack of trust in the government, mainly due to the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment in the past. More details are outlined below.

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Likelihood of receiving a vaccine

  • Many black Americans are not participating in COVID-19 clinical trials because they distrust the government and many are saying that they will not get a COVID-19 vaccine, that is not until many others are done getting it.
  • Polls have been showing that among ethnic and racial groups, the most hesitant to get a vaccine once it becomes available are the Black Americans. Polls also indicate that their skepticism has been rising fast. A survey conducted in September 2020 reveals that only 32% of Black adults indicated that they would get a vaccine, which is down from 54% in May.
  • A survey conducted by the Associated Press together with the NORC at the University of Chicago revealed that only “22% of Black respondents said they plan to get the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available.” This survey was conducted in October 2020.

How their situation compares to the general market

  • According to a Pew Research Center study which was released this month (December 2020), “just 42% of African Americans will get a vaccine, compared to 63% of Hispanics, 61% of white adults and 83% of Asian Americans.” The study also reveals that “overall, 60% percent of Americans will get the vaccine.”
  • A survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation reveals that there is a widespread distrust among Americans when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine. The survey reveals that 34% of Americans say “they’ll either probably not or definitely not take a COVID-19 vaccine.” The survey also reveals that 37% of Caucasian Americans and only 17% of Black Americans will definitely take the vaccine even if scientists have already determined it to be safe and even if it’s free.
  • Caucasian Americans are also skeptical about the vaccine but to a lesser degree than that of the Black Americans’ skepticism.

How the vaccine will be delivered

  • According to the National Academies, “geographic priority should be given to communities that are high on what the CDC calls the Social Vulnerability Index, which identifies communities most endangered and in need of aid during disasters like hurricanes.” This vulnerability index takes into account unemployment, poverty, as well as health insurance rates, among other demographic, socioeconomic, transportation, and housing vulnerabilities.
  • According to Helene Gayle, co-chair of the National Academies report and CEO of the Chicago Community Trust, “We’re making sure that we’re prioritizing those communities who have borne the largest burden of this pandemic. We wanted to make sure that there was real consideration given to getting it to people who are at the highest risk, particularly communities of color, who oftentimes are higher on that social vulnerability scale.”
  • In October 2020, the CDC released a revised version of its Covid-19 vaccination guidelines, which was influenced by the report from National Academies. This CDC guideline was designed to help territories, states, and local health officials in developing plans for the distribution of vaccines. The guideline suggests for jurisdictions to make plans that “ensure equitable access to vaccination.” It also lists underrepresented ethnic and racial groups as “critical populations that may be at an increased risk of acquiring Covid-19.”

Barriers and hesitations

  • A foundation that supports the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had a recent focus group and in there Black participants said that systemic racism is the reason for their hesitancy to get vaccinated. The black American participants “cited the government-backed Tuskegee Syphilis Study, in which Black men were told they were getting free medical care but instead were denied therapy for their syphilis for decades.” Black Americans are generally aware of the Tuskegee study.
  • One Black American focus group member said, “I firmly believe that this is another Tuskegee Experiment.” Another group member said, “We are the ones who are the guinea pigs for the rich.” Then a third added, “The more they study me, the more they know how to get rid of me.”
  • According to Alexandre White, historian of medicine at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, “America has a terrible history of medical experimentation on Black Americans, including but not limited to Tuskegee. The legacies of experimentation and racism date back to the origins of this country and are still quite fresh. The country’s first medical colleges purchased enslaved men to dig up freshly buried bodies from Black cemeteries to use for experiments and autopsies.”
  • According to Andrea McDaniels, a Black American who’s affiliated with Baltimore Sun, “I get the side-eye and suspicion directed at the vaccine given the distrust so many of us have when it comes to the medical system. And it’s a trust that is totally justified based on history. Doctors used Henrietta Lacks’ cells to develop medical breakthroughs without her consent. Researchers deliberately didn’t treat men with syphilis during the Tuskegee Syphilis study, leading to many deaths. The man sometimes known as the “father of gynecology” conducted experiments on enslaved Black women without using anesthesia. Even today doctors’ biases contribute to the way African American patients are treated or their symptoms dismissed.”
  • Another reason for their hesitation is the triggered suspicion and fear among Black Americans brought about by the speed of the COVID-19 vaccine development process, referred to as “Operation Warp Speed.” Black Americans think that the vaccine could be unsafe because of this very quick development process.
  • According to Kenyon Farrow, Partners for Dignity & Rights’ co-executive director, “This legacy of ‘hyperexperimentation on Black bodies’ becomes the first hurdle in thinking about clinical trials and vaccines. But you don’t have to go back decades. The lack of a national strategy to contain the spread of the coronavirus has done the most to harden suspicions of what the government might be offering in terms of a vaccine. Part of that strategy could include partnering with community organizations that have experience reaching out to Black people around stigmatized viruses such as HIV. Without a coordinated strategy around research literacy and clinical trials, people have been left, frankly, to the internet and their own devices to figure out what’s true and what’s false and what they should do about a vaccine.”
  • According to the Kaiser survey, 39% of Black Americans will not take the vaccine because of safety concerns.
  • The image below shows the result of the poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation. These are the answers of Black Americans to this poll’s question: “What is the main reason why you would not get a vaccine for coronavirus?”

Black Americans and the vaccine

Glenn is the Lead Operations Research Analyst at The Digital Momentum with experience in research, statistical data analysis and interview techniques. A holder of degree in Economics. A true specialist in quantitative and qualitative research.

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