Lionhearted – Race & Vaccination
Volume 6 • Issue 1 • January 2021
Uplift Family Services is a trauma-informed agency, providing whole person care through resilience-oriented, data-driven, culturally sensitive services. We believe in the power of staff investment, advocacy and collaboration as we partner with individuals, families, and communities to heal from the widespread impact of trauma.
Race & Vaccination
In the campaign against COVID-19, vaccines may be the closest thing we’ve got to kryptonite. Yet ethnic groups hit hardest by the pandemic, especially Black communities, are also the least likely to embrace vaccination.
In a painfully ironic twist, systemic racism has bred both vulnerability to the pandemic and distrust of vaccination, and COVID has put them on a collision course.
[In this issue, POC (persons of color), refers to Black, Latinx and Indigenous U.S. populations. We acknowledge the limitations of such labels, not the least being the heterogeneity of these populations. – Eds.]
The pandemic has impacted POC disproportionately in every life domain: health, finances, education, etc. Hospitalization rates, for example, are up to 4 times higher than for Whites. What’s more, compared to Whites, Latinx and Black households with children have over twice the rate of simultaneous hardships in 3 or more life domains.
Dr. Rueben Warren directs the National Center for Bioethics in Research and Health Care at Tuskegee University. In an excellent article in The New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Warren et al. explain that “the deep and justified lack of trust that many Black Americans have for the health care system…is often traced to the legacy of the infamous syphilis study at Tuskegee… But the distrust is far more deeply rooted in centuries of…racist exploitation by American physicians and researchers.”
Ongoing systemic racism sustains health disparities, not only through poor access to medical care, but with regard to social determinants of health: air and water quality, trauma, access to healthy food, etc.
No wonder only 42% of Blacks say they would definitely or probably get the vaccine, compared to over 60% of Whites and Latinxs.
Can more POC be convinced that vaccinations make sense for them? Efforts by the CDC and NIH notwithstanding, federal leadership in this area has been dismal. Vaccines have been endorsed by the National Medical Association, the nation’s largest organization of Black physicians, and the National Hispanic Medical Association. But ads on BET and Univision to recruit POC to participate in vaccine trials have met with disappointing results.
Among other things, Warren recommends involving individuals and organizations perceived in their communities as trustworthy. Potential “messengers” include healthcare providers elected representatives, faith leaders, social advocates, and community organizations.
To do the job, messengers themselves need trustworthy sources of information. This is a task for historically White public health institutions: to educate the messengers, to make the case that getting vaccinated is in the interest of every community.
As Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez put it, “The arrival of the Pfizer vaccine is a blessing for all of our people, including the doctors, nurses, and many other health care warriors.”
Editors: Mark Edelstein & Elika Beckwith