Safety is not the only concern
Two COVID-19 vaccines are now available. Both vaccine makers are claiming 95% effectiveness.
A Pew Research survey earlier this month, before the new Pfizer and Moderna vaccines received U.S. emergency-use approvals, found that Blacks are less likely than others to get the vaccine. Other surveys have shown that Blacks have the greatest skepticism toward the vaccine among other groups.
A recent Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) poll, however, says 62% of Black Americans say they will “probably or definitely” get the COVID-19 inoculations.
Nonetheless, “vaccine mistrust” exists and should not be ignored, said University of Minnesota School of Public Health’s Jaime Slaughter-Acey, Ph.D. The epidemiology and community health assistant professor told the MSR, “I think that’s a valid concern that Black Americans have.”
During last week’s NAACP virtual town hall on the COVID-19 vaccines, Dr. Patrice Harris, immediate past president of the American Medical Association, declared, “Mistrust is not the same as misinformation.”
Misinformation regarding the vaccines, such as if it’s safe for Blacks, must be countered with accurate information, added Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, National Institutes for Health senior researcher. She said on the NAACP virtual event that vaccine clinical trials began as early as March, and added that “a large number of eyes of people of color” were observing the entire process, including herself.
Corbett noted that she and others have been working on virus vaccines for nearly a decade. “I’ve been [the] scientific research leader for NIH for six years,” she said. “The research we have been doing is longstanding.”
The incoming Biden administration is committed to equity in regards to vaccination, said Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, co-chair of the president-elect’s coronavirus advisory board.
At present the COVID-19 vaccine rollout will be slow. The Minnesota Department of Health has said that health care workers and assisted care facility residents, who are mostly elderly, will be the first to get it in its first phase. There are no public plans at this time for when the second phase will take place, MDH officials announced.
Slaughter-Acey added that structural inequities as well as the historical mistrust among many Blacks for the medical community are understandable. “I am very committed to public health being a Black epidemiologist, but at the same time I identify as an African American… I very much do understand the fears, worries and anxieties that Black Americans have.”
“In terms of who get the vaccine first,” continued the U of M professor, “it should be people who are most at risk…our elderly people and older adults. Then followed by those with lower risk.”
Given the fact that the COVID-19 still rages and Blacks have disproportionate mortality rates, Slaughter-Acey said that there is more risk in not taking the vaccine than in getting vaccinated. But she does express concern over how distribution of the vaccine may be set up both locally and nationwide.
“Anyone who does not think there is a potential for being an inequitable access to the vaccine as a result of where someone lives is a fool,” she stressed. “Given that there have been inequities in [COVID-19] testing…it is of the utmost importance that public health officials, local, state and federal leaders, as well as community activists hold people accountable and ensure that plans are in place for the distribution of those vaccines.”
In the final analysis Slaughter-Acey joins others in support of the COVID-19 vaccines, especially for Blacks: “It really is going to take all of us, or as many of us as possible, to participate in vaccination in order for us to return to some sort of normalcy sooner than later.”
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Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.