African Americans were more hesitant than white Americans to receive the COVID-19 vaccines when they first became available in December 2020. But six months later, that reluctance to getting innoculated declined to the point where race doesn't appear to be a major factor in whether someone is willing to get a vaccine, according to a new study in the American Medical Association's JAMA Network Open.
In December 2020, 38 percent of Black respondents surveyed said they didn't plan to get a vaccine, compared with 28 percent of white respondents. By June 2021, 26 percent of Black and 27 percent of white respondents were vaccine hesitant.
"What this shows is that, over this time period Black Americans believed more in the idea that vaccines were necessary to protect themselves and their community," explained Tasleem Padamsee, an assistant professor of health services management and policy at Ohio State University's College of Public Health.
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Study researchers attribute the increase in the number of African Americans being willing to get vaccinated to more information being available about the safety and effectiveness of the COVID vaccines, as well as a concerted education campaign by Black organizations and leaders trusted in their communities to reassure people that the vaccines are an excellent preventive measure. Vaccine advocates also had to get past the institutional distrust of the medical system that many black Americans have, dating back to abuse and experimental treatments foisted on African Americans. "So there's a tendency to be cautious," Padamsee, the lead author of the study, said in an interview with AARP.
Other barriers to vaccination
Padamsee said the evidence that Black Americans are no longer more hesitant than white Americans to get the COVID vaccine doesn't explain why the vaccination rate for them is still slightly lower than the rate for their white counterparts. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of December 2021, 77.8 percent of white Americans were fully vaccinated, compared with 76.2 percent of Black Americans. Not every community reports racial and ethnic data to the CDC, so agency officials have cautioned that these are estimates.
"Something else is probably going on that's holding Black Americans back from getting vaccines as often as white Americans do," Padamsee said. "If it's not about willingness, it's usually about access barriers."
She said that among the common barriers that public health experts worry about are people not being close to a vaccination site or not having transportation to get to one. Financial concerns also play a part. People may be worried that they won’t be able to afford a vaccine.
"The fact is that in the U.S., vaccines are free to all Americans, but many people don't know that," especially if they are uninsured and used to being anxious about medical bills, Padamsee said. "People also worry about taking time off work to get vaccinated or taking time off if they get sick after they get vaccinated."
Dena Bunis covers Medicare, health care, health policy and Congress. She also writes the “Medicare Made Easy” column for the AARP Bulletin. An award-winning journalist, Bunis spent decades working for metropolitan daily newspapers, including as Washington bureau chief for the Orange County Register and as a health policy and workplace writer for Newsday.