April 30, 2021

Overcoming vaccine hesitancy in the Black community

Kaiser Permanente health expert acknowledges strong feelings of distrust within the Black community, but stresses the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Health experts note that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe and are encouraging more people within the Black community to get immunized.

When she became eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, Dawn Gravely, a Black woman who is a personal trainer, didn’t embrace the opportunity to get vaccinated. She had many questions: Was the vaccine rushed through approval? Is it safe? Will it really make a difference?

Gravely’s hesitancy is not unusual in the Black community, where many people won’t get the COVID-19 vaccine due to a strong feeling of distrust.

“For many Black Americans, distrust in the safety of vaccines is prevalent,” said Gravely, who lives in Inglewood, California. “It took a lot of research and convincing for me to get my COVID-19 vaccine. Although I know it was the right decision for me, many of my friends still won’t get vaccinated. Even though I believe it’s the right thing to do, it’s still a very sensitive topic within the Black community.”

La Tanya R. Hines, MD, assistant physician in charge, Kaiser Permanente Baldwin Hills — Crenshaw Medical Offices, is not surprised. She explained that for many people of color, there’s a strong distrust of the health care delivery system and government due to strong beliefs and experiences of social inequities and racism. Hence, many Black people today are hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine, Dr. Hines noted, adding, “You can explain science; but, ultimately, it comes down to, ‘Do I trust you?’”

A year into the pandemic, Black Americans continue to experience hospitalization and death from COVID-19 at a much higher rate than white Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. White and higher-income Americans are also more likely to have received a vaccine than Black, Hispanic, or lower-income people, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

To diminish vaccine hesitancy, Dr. Hines stressed the importance of outreach to the Black community, including through respected local leaders. As for the COVID-19 vaccine, she emphasized the importance of getting vaccinated, especially in the Black community where many people have underlying health conditions and suffer from hypertension and diabetes that put them at a higher risk of getting and dying from COVID-19.

“Get your vaccination wherever it’s available to you and know that you’re making a decision that will improve your life and the lives of your family members and those around you,” Dr. Hines explained. “Medicine isn’t perfect, but science and the pursuit of elimination of illness is what medicine does best, and it’s reasonable to trust evidence-based information and trusting that the vaccine was made to protect us. It will allow you to have the quality of life that you were afforded previously before the pandemic, and don’t you and your family deserve that?”

In her own case, Gravely said that after thinking it through, she concluded getting vaccinated was the right thing to do.

“I didn’t want to get sick; I didn’t want to feel guilty bringing the virus home, and I didn’t want to spread it to loved ones,” she explained. “Ultimately, I felt the benefits outweighed the risks, and I’m glad I got vaccinated.”