Vaccination Hesitancy Remains for Certain Populations
By: Stayce Camparo, Communications Co-Chair, Global Women’s Caucus
On January 16th, 2021, a doctor by the name of Kimberly D. Manning prepared a vaccination station for Ms. Eloise, an elderly black woman who had come to the clinic to get her vaccine. Soon after Dr. Manning started preparing the syringe, Ms. Eloise started crying, confessing her doubt that she was doing the right thing. Dr. Manning paused the inoculation, and began to talk with her, gently asking her about her hesitations. Ms. Eloise explained that she didn’t want to go another year, not being able to hug her grandkids -- “I’m more scared of going another year not hugging my grands than I am of…whatever.”
“Ms. Eloise, I bet you’ve seen a lot of…whatever,” stated Dr. Manning. Ms. Eloise replied, “Yeah, I have.”
This excerpt was retrieved from the twitter account of Dr. Kimberly D. Manning, illuminating a conflict of trust that many Black Americans are confronted with when making healthcare decisions. Dr. Manning, also a Black woman, ended the post with #BlackWhysMatter, a directive to her followers to listen to the hesitancy of those who have historically been taken advantage of by the medical and healthcare communities.
Among Black Americans, trust in vaccine safety is only 14%, and two in three people believe that the government should “rarely, or never, be trusted to look after their interests.” In Latinx communities, these statists are 34% and 43% respectively -- lower than what many health officials need for public health conformity, yet a bump up from reports by Black Americans, displaying a deep divide in opinion among two populations that have historically been marginalized. The efficacy of any vaccine to provide widespread protection lies within the population’s willingness to get it, and if certain groups are hesitant, then everyone is at risk.
What Ms. Eloise and many others are afraid of, however, is not unjustified; throughout history, Black Americans have suffered from unspeakable tortures, prejudices, and disparities in medical research and healthcare. In 1932, the Tuskegee Institute, along with the Public Health Service, began to study the natural course of syphilis by recruiting 600 Black men, half with syphilis and half without, without their informed consent. In return for the study (originally supposed to last six months), the men received free regular medical exams, free meals, and free burial services. The study went on to last for 40 years, and in 1947, when penicillin became the chosen drug to cure syphilis, the men of the Tuskegee study were not offered it, with later investigations finding no evidence that the participants were even given a choice to quit the study. This incident sparked the establishment of the International Review Board, and a strict code of ethics that is rigorously analyzed for the use of human subjects in research.
Though the research community has taken strides to assure equality in experimentation and scientific study, we are far from rectifying the persistent systemic racism embedded in the American medical system; inequalities and prejudices still exist and are evident in the high mortality rates among Black mothers and infants, and in the striking disparities in Coronavirus cases among Black Americans. And to say that the problem is being confronted flies in the face of reports showing that race is not being adequately tracked in vaccination distribution. Moreover, the process for acquiring a vaccination appointment, even by those who are eager to get it, is displaying racial inequities, in terms of the time and resources needed to book such an appointment. If we are to take on the labor of Sisyphus and tackle the predominant vaccine hesitancy among Black Americans, then we must confront the bleak reality of medical racism, and learn more about the groups that are being targeted by disinformation campaigns looking to suppress and mislead.
Unfortunately, women, particularly Black women, are one of the more vulnerable populations targeted by propaganda. Broken down only by gender, a recent National Geographic survey showed that 51% of women reported that they were likely to take the covid vaccine, compared with 69% of men. Some research shows that the anti-vaxxer movement, primarily made up of women, has infiltrated mainstream, predominantly female, domains, like wellness and cuisine. These campaigns are succeeding in spreading false information to a population that is chiefly responsible for making health decisions for their families. Furthermore, there is warranted hesitancy among Black women given the history of distressing medical outcomes during childbirth, compounded by a lack of medical research for this demographic. Though some policy leaders have considered targeting Black communities first with the vaccine, given that those communities have been hit the hardest by the pandemic, an established and reinforced distrust in healthcare and health professionals have left many Black women wary to be first in line.
Professionals and experts in the study of disinformation and inequality have a few suggestions to help everyone stay savvy to credible information and hopefully help increase willing participation in vaccination. For one, we need to listen to those who are hesitant because of a long-established system of medical racism. We also need to become informed consumers of accurate information, and use the tools available to us to call out and combat false messaging. Remember Occam’s razor? Some stories are just too convoluted to be true. Lastly, we need to get this vaccine. Though some experts theorize that hesitancy in women arises partly from research showing that women fare better than men when infected with the coronavirus, our physical health, mental health, and futures all depend on stepping up as a community and listening to science.
Ms. Eloise had a fear of being disconnected from the people she loved, and that fear ultimately helped erode the fears she harbored as a Black woman. Thank you, Ms. Eloise. Our neighbors and leaders must learn from your example, and from your #why.