Fear, Hesitancy, Lack of Access – Overcoming Barriers to Vaccines in the African American Community


Vidya Sethuraman
India Post News Service

Hesitancy about the healthcare system, not hesitancy about vaccines, is part of why vaccine rates remain low among African Americans, as are fears about the vaccines and misinformation about the COVID pandemic itself. Speakers discussed approaches that are slowly increasing Black vaccination rates in California, especially among young adults, and some shared the reasons why they delayed getting vaccinated until very recently.

Black, Hispanic, and Native American people are about 4 times more likely to be hospitalized and nearly 3 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than white people. Yet African Americans have nearly the lowest rates of vaccination among any ethnic group.

Some people have concerns regarding the speed with which they were developed or about their safety or side effects. Others feel a historical distrust for the medical establishment or governmental authority.

Dr. Oliver T. Brooks, Chief Medical Officer, Watts Healthcare Corp., Los Angeles credited some of that fear to how African Americans were treated throughout history. African Americans have suffered a shock for 400 years so it’s not just as simple as forgetting about it. They have been mistreated by the medical system going back to the enslaved. It is a decision based primarily on mistrust of the vaccine and mistrust with the health care system. Also he added African Americans were more likely to not get vaccinated because they’re worried about missing work, not having sick leave, having to pay for vaccines.

Alva Brannon, recent vaccine recipient, talked about her initial mistrust of the vaccine. With her mistrust, Brannon kept evading the vaccine till her daughter and her church finally convinced her to take it in her own interest and the interest of her loved ones, her grandchildren.

Michael LeNoir, pediatrician, Oakland, Ca., and Board chair of African American Wellness Project said COVID-19 death rate in Alameda County, where Oakland is located, is highest among Black Americans. African Americans have been suspicious of vaccines for a very long time and the community has a lot of mistrust on vaccines. It makes it more difficult to persuade the younger African Americans to get a vaccine.

Trust in the vaccines is vital, and is critically dependent on the ability of governments to communicate the benefits of vaccination, and to deliver the vaccines safely and effectively.