In November 2020, Pew Research Center published findings from a survey conducted on American’s confidence and intent to get the COVID-19 vaccine. In comparison to other racial and ethnic groups, the survey results indicated that Black Americans are less inclined to get the COVID-19 vaccine with only 42% saying they would “definitely or probably get vaccinated.” This figure, according to Dr. Elizabeth Yuko in last week’s Rolling Stone article, “Why Are Black Communities Being Singled Out as Vaccine Hesitant?,” has since been used to single out African Americas as the most vaccine hesitant population despite opposing reports from other sources. For example, Civiqs polling found that of any demographic group, white Republicans have the highest rates of vaccine hesitancy compared to Black Americans, Latinx Americans, and white Democrats with 56% reporting that they are “unsure or will not receive the vaccine.”
Furthermore, the article illuminates how media coverage of vaccine hesitancy among Black Americans has been oversimplified with comparisons to the Tuskegee Syphilis Study without acknowledging that vaccine hesitancy is a result of both past and ongoing health disparities and a history of medical mistreatment, according to Dr. Yuko, Adjunct Professor of Ethics and Affiliated Faculty Member in the Center for Ethics Education at Fordham University, and Bioethicist and Writer (also, former Editor-in-Chief of Ethics and Society)
Dr. Faith Fletcher, Senior Advisor to the Hastings Center, Assistant Professor of Health Behavior at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health, and alum of the Fordham University HIV and Drug Abuse Prevention Research Ethics Training Institute, discussed the harmful narrative that the entire demographic of Black Americans are vaccine hesitant and why it is inaccurate and unjust. “African Americans are not a monolith…we must avoid perpetuating single stories, dominant narratives, and critical misunderstandings about African American communities rooted in scientific racist ideologies, including those that characterize African American communities as vaccine hesitant, distrustful, and hard-to-reach,” she explained.
In order to address the inaccurate portrayal of Black Americans’ COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy, Fletcher and Dr. Alicia L. Best told Rolling Stone that healthcare, research, and public health institutions must admit “their untrustworthy actions” and acknowledge that “African Americans’ mistrust is justifiable.” Dr. Fletcher also advocated for the amplification of stories of Black Americans getting vaccinated to combat the narrative of perceived vaccine hesitancy. “We are witnessing laudable community-focused vaccination strategies across the country, including from groups like the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium in Philadelphia, which implemented a 24-hour, walk-up vaccination site… this is an example of an innovative approach that meets communities where they are and facilitates vaccine acceptance,” she said.
Fletcher continued to explain, “We must actively resist and challenge existing narratives that portray communities of color as risky, irresponsible, and incapable of behavior change, and shift the responsibility to structures that disadvantage some members of society” in order to “advance health equity.”