America got more good news about a COVID-19 vaccine last week, the second potential vaccine shown to be at least 90% effective against the disease in early data from clinical trials.
If the Food and Drug Administration grants emergency use authorization to one or both vaccines, doses could be distributed beginning in late Decembe,r and the country will have its most powerful tool yet against the pandemic.
But no vaccine, no matter how effective it is or how quickly it becomes available, will be a powerful tool against the pandemic if too few people — especially African Americans, who are among the most vulnerable to severe illness or death from COVID-19 — get the shot.
And as the Sun-Times’ Brett Chase reported Sunday, distrust of a COVID-19 vaccine runs deep among Black Americans. They’re less likely to volunteer for clinical trials to test vaccine safety and effectiveness. Public opinion polls, too, have consistently shown African Americans are less likely to say they would take a coronavirus vaccine.
The numbers are clear: Blacks make up 13% of the U.S. population but more than 20% of deaths from COVID-19, and just 3% of those enrolled in vaccine trials, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.
Blacks who have volunteered to take part in vaccine research, like 68-year-old Bonnie Blue, told the Sun-Times that family members warned them against participating. It’s a familiar story in the Black community, based on the ample documented history of Black people having been the targets of government-sanctioned, unethical medical research — such as the Tuskegee syphilis research.
“The mistrust built up over years is well-founded,” Dr. Monica Peek, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Chicago, told the Sun-Times.
The health care system has a lot of work to do to get past that lingering distrust. As states and the federal government plan public education campaigns to urge people to take a vaccine, extra effort must be made to reach the African American community, get people vaccinated and save lives.
“African Americans are disproportionately burdened by this pandemic,” Peek said. “It will be a double tragedy if African Americans refuse to take the vaccine.”
There are encouraging signs that vaccine skepticism is on the decline, but the stubborn racial gap remains. In a Gallup poll conducted Oct. 19 to Nov. 1, 61% of white Americans said they would get a vaccine, up from 54% a month earlier. Among people of color, willingness to take a vaccine rose from 40% to 48%.
“There is an issue of trust — a big, very valid issue of distrust,” Blue said of her decision to take part in vaccine trials. “I see why my family was upset. But this is something that’s bigger than me.”
Send letters to [email protected]