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COVID-19 vaccine concerns in Black community reflect history of mistrust

According to a survey on race and health, nearly half of Black Americans say they will not take a coronavirus vaccine.
Published: Dec. 23, 2020 at 6:06 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - A survey on race and health by The Undefeated and the Kaiser Family Foundation found that half of Black adults are not planning to take a COVID-19 vaccine, even if it is free and declared safe.

UW Health pediatric infectious disease physician Sheryl Henderson said she has heard the same concerns among Black patients.

“It may not be safe, that it may not be studied well,” Henderson listed.

Henderson, who is Black, received her COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday morning.

“I personally took the vaccine because I know that this is a deadly, a very dangerous and a debilitating disease,” Henderson explained.

However, she also acknowledged the “deep-seated distrust” among communities of color in the health care system.

UW-Madison professor of Community and Environmental Sociology Josh Garoon explained the history behind the mistrust.

“This goes back to medical experimentation in pre-modern health care times,” Garoon said.

Henderson explained further, “There have been studies performed in the name of science but performed unethically.”

This includes experiments like the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male” beginning in the 1930s, where treatment for the disease was withheld from hundreds of Black men.

“There’s this perfectly justifiable, perfectly rational, healthy distrust,” Garoon said.

He added that Black Americans continue to experience bias in health care today.

“They have worse outcomes, they get worse treatment,” Garoon said.

For example, Black mothers in Wisconsin are five times as likely to die in childbirth and from pregnancy-related issues as white mothers, according to the state Department of Health Services.

Garoon said a first step in rebuilding trust is having diversity within health care.

“People respond to seeing people like them saying this is safe, you should come in, you should get vaccinated,” he explained.

UW Health Chief Diversity Officer Shiva Bidar-Sielaff said this is part of their efforts to educate and engage with communities of color.

“We do have some incredible physicians of color who are working in their own communities, very committed to their communities,” Bidar-Sielaff explained.

She added UW Health has also started working with community organizations and faith leaders to get more information out to communities of color and ensure equal access to the vaccine.

In responding to skepticism about the vaccine, Garoon cautioned it is important not to frame it as a problem with the Black community. He emphasized that many groups have concerns about vaccines in general, and it is best to focus on listening to and understanding their concerns.

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