The United States has recently started to distribute approved COVID-19 vaccines to frontline workers across the country. Soon, the vaccine will be widely available to the public and scientists believe that as more individuals choose to become vaccinated, the sooner we can reach the goal of herd immunity. However, the speed in which the COVID-19 vaccine was developed, paired with uncertainty of the long-term effectiveness, has created skepticism within the African American community.
Medical experts believe that the COVID-19 vaccine is not only safe, but also effective. “[The vaccine] has absolutely exquisite levels — 94 to 95% efficacy against clinical disease and almost 100% efficacy against serious disease that are shown to be clearly safe,” says Dr. Anthony Fauci, American physician and Immunologist with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. However, Black minority communities are not convinced.
“History has not been kind to us in the black community in terms of health care, but with the rampant spread of COVID-19, we need to trust the science,” said Rev. Dr. Keith Troy, pastor of New Salem Baptist Church in Columbus, Ohio. “Not only should we trust the science, but the scientists, many of which look like us. “The impact on our community is too devastating for us to refuse this vaccine or just wait and see.”
Public health experts like Dr. Fauci understand the hesitation around trusting the medical field and knows that rebuilding trust will take time. An important step in that direction is the news that one of the leaders in the COVID-19 vaccine development is a Black woman – Dr. Kizzmekia “Kizzy” Shanta Corbett. “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,” Fauci said. “And that is just a fact.”
A viral immunologist at the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health based in Bethesda, Maryland, Corbett is the scientific lead of the VRC’s Coronavirus Team, with research efforts aimed at propelling novel coronavirus vaccines, including a COVID-19 vaccine.
The concerns that African Americans have in trusting the vaccine are valid ones. History has shown that people of color have experienced racist, and at times dangerous, health policies and clinical experiments have disparaged particularly vulnerable Black and brown communities. But with the COVID-19 pandemic, in looking at the data, African Americans are 1.4 times more likely to contract COVID-19 and three times more likely to die due to complications of Coronavirus. The urgency for vaccination, and to achieve herd immunity, is real.
Herd immunity occurs when the majority of the population is immune to a virus. According to a recent survey by Pews Research Center; 42% of African Americans will get the vaccine, compared to 63% of Hispanics, 61% of white adults and 83% of Asian Americans who will choose to be vaccinated. If these numbers are accurate then a total of 60% of the nation’s population will choose the shot – however – experts stress that at least 70% of Americans must be vaccinated to reach herd immunity, which puts pressure on African American communities to change their minds.
“I’m planning to get the vaccine as soon as it becomes available to me,” says Rev. Dr. Troy. “For essential workers and people with pre-existing conditions, it is imperative, because you are on the front line, we can’t afford to lose you – or any others.”
The COVID-19 vaccine has been developed to save lives. The distribution of this life-saving vaccine is part of the national effort to protect all people, and global vaccine acceptance is imperative for everyone to return to normalcy. African Americans do not have to worry about being Guinea pigs of the vaccine or fear the outcomes of receiving it. Medical experts assure the public that months of clinical trials and research were executed by willing volunteers. The medical field has evolved since the Tuskegee trials in the past, and there are disclosures and consent regulations that have been developed to protect patients.
“As we work to forge a path forward, trusting science is the only way to end the unequal death toll in the Black community resulting from COVID-19,” says Troy. “Do your own research, then do your part by rolling up your sleeve and getting your shot!”