Blacks divided over COVID vaccine safety

“Because of thoughtful planning by experts who have been doing this work for years, Minnesota is ready to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine,” said Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan. “We are focusing on maximizing impact, equity and transparency, so that Minnesotans can be confident in the safe distribution of the vaccine.”

The arrival of the Pfizer mRNA vaccine—which was approved for emergency authorization by the FDA on Friday, Dec. 11—is welcome news to many in the African American community. Moderna’s vaccine is expected to receive emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration later this month.

However, the news of these vaccines’ approval is also accompanied by lots of fear, doubt and consternation among Blacks. That perspective seems to be shared by many depending on which poll one trusts. A November Axios/Ipsos poll revealed that 55% of Black folks said they would take a vaccine with the caveat that they would take it if it has been proven safe and effective.

The Pew Research Center in its most recent poll found that only 32% of Black adults say they would definitely or probably take a COVID-19 vaccine. A study by the COVID Collaborative and the NAACP showed that most Black people don’t believe a vaccine will be safe or effective and don’t plan to get vaccinated.

The MSR asked several Twin Citians about their take on the vaccine. One of these, Marcus Owens, executive director of the African American Leadership Forum, said, “Once the vaccine is available for everyone, I will be getting in line to get the vaccine for myself and family. Understanding what this virus has done and will continue to do to our community, it’s imperative that we stop the spread and impact of COVID 19 by getting vaccinated.”

“I am afraid to take the vaccine,” said Tiffani Flynn Forslund. “I have just recovered from COVID-19 and was not happy to have it either. A credible doctor had horrible reviews of the vaccine. Why do we have competing pharmaceuticals producing the vaccine? Talk about capitalism at its finest.”

“No,” said Shawn Lewis on getting an early vaccination. “I want to see if there are side effects for other African Americans who have taken it.”

But vaccinations are still months away for most Americans. “It will be several months before the average Minnesotan will be able to be vaccinated, but we will get there,” said Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm. Department of Health staff will train providers on protocols and procedures for administering the vaccine this week, with most vaccinations expected to begin next week, December 21.

The first group to be vaccinated in phase 1 will include health care workers and long-term care residents. The priority groups for phase 1b and 1c have yet to be determined but may include essential workers and older adults.  

In an interview with ABC News on Monday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, seeking to allay concerns and fears in the Black community, said, “So, the first thing you might want to say to my African American brothers and sisters is that the vaccine that you’re going to be taking was developed by an African American woman.” He was referring to Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, who was co-leader of the team at the National Institute of Health (NIH) that worked with Moderna to develop its vaccine. “And that is just a fact.”

Corbett who works at NIH’s Vaccine Research Center as a postdoctoral fellow, has a Ph.D. in microbiology and immunology. She said in the ABC interview that she thought it important that Black people know she was involved in developing a vaccine. “This person who looks like you has been working on this for several years… I wanted it to be visible because I wanted people to understand that I stood by the work that I’d done for so long as well,” explained the doctor.

The coronavirus has killed nearly 300,000 people to date and infected more than 15 million people in the U.S. The Black community in the U.S. has been infected and died from the disease at a disproportionate rate across the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).