Jessica Ross, a 23-year-old Black woman in Atlanta, said she – and many other Black women in her circle – are nervous about getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
She’s a graduate student in public health at Emory University and has been closely following news of the vaccine’s development. But that doesn’t shake off the fear history has imprinted on her community.
Medical testing such as the Tuskegee Syphilis Study on Black men, which did not provide them with treatment to cure the disease, and the case of Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman whose cancer cells were used for research without her or her family’s permission, many have cultivated distrust in public health systems.
Many in her circle of family and friends “are nervous about, ‘Is this going to be … tested out on minority groups?'” she said. “They fear something similar happening again with the COVID-19 vaccine.”
Several polls have shown the ambivalence surrounding the vaccine among people of color. Half of surveyed Black adults aren’t planning to take the vaccine, even if it’s available free and scientists assure it’s safe, according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation and The Undefeated, ESPN’s race, sports and culture website.
But a recent survey has found Black women like Ross and Latinx women, more than men, are most reluctant to get the vaccine.
Only 19% of Black women and about one-fifth of Latinx women opted to take the vaccine as soon as possible, according to the poll by MassINC Polling Group in Massachusetts, which surveyed 1,100 residents across the state.
In contrast, 36% of Black men and just shy of a quarter of Latinx men responded they’d take the vaccine as soon as possible.
That rate was about a third of white women and 44% of white men.
Historically, public health campaigns are usually developed to help educate and inform communities about the safety, effectiveness and importance of vaccinations – but the COVID-19 vaccine was developed so quickly that proper dissemination of information to specific populations hasn’t really been done yet, Rodriguez said.
“It shows we have a lot of work to do,” she said. “What we need to do is have trusted community ambassadors and messengers just relaying that this is a safe vaccine, that it’s efficacious.”
Part of that, Rodriguez said, is ensuring that Black, Latinx and Native American women and men understand the alternative of not getting vaccinated.
“People that are not minorities, white Americans, white men and white women who have high privilege … have access to higher quality resources or extremely beneficial or high-quality health care,” Ross said. “Those are the people that I would like to see going forth and taking this vaccine first.”
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