Covid vaccination rates in minority communities—driven by fears of the delta variant—surged past those of White Americans, but not enough shots are getting into arms to close the racial gap on new infections and hospitalizations.
Full approval of Pfizer’s Covid vaccine and a similar upcoming review of Moderna’s dose could shift the conversation among holdouts in communities with histories of medical and government skepticism, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) survey. But it will take conversations from trustworthy friends and community leaders to potentially win them over.
“With the FDA approval, we need the people that can have that local conversation and that family to family conversation, to really double down that we know we all care for each other,” said Juliet K. Choi, president and CEO of the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum.
“It’s not that government official that’s going to crack that net.”
Prior to the delta surge, Black and Hispanic Americans were nearly three times more likely to be hospitalized and twice as likely to die from Covid than were White Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The more infectious delta strain has pushed more people to get the vaccine, but minority advocates said additional outreach is necessary even as their vaccination rates outpace the White community.
The Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE shot Aug. 23. Moderna Inc. said Aug. 25 it had completed the application process for full approval of its Covid-19 vaccine in the U.S.
Because communities of color aren’t monolithic, vaccine advocates plan to shift the talks away from the federal OK to other concerns around the virus, such as misinformation and distrust in the vaccine process.
Despite concerns around the injection, Covid vaccinations among Black and Hispanic communities saw a slight uptick—particularly in southern states where the virus has hit the hardest, according to Aug. 13 data from Bloomberg News.
Overall, the states tracked by Bloomberg vaccinated 4.3% of Hispanic people, 3.7% of Black people, and 2.6% of White people from mid-July to mid-August.
Mississippi saw the biggest increase among its Black population, inoculating 5.8% of that group compared with 4% of White people, the Bloomberg tracker found. However, Black Mississippians still accounted for 55% of cases and 41% of deaths, despite 38% of that population getting the shot, according to an Aug. 18 KFF survey.
“Everything that can be done, has been done and will continue to be done, and yet we are still facing this crisis,” said Reed Tuckson, co-founder of the Black Coalition Against Covid and former commissioner of health in the District of Columbia.
“At some point, your society simply cannot function when your health system has imploded. As a result, I don’t think there is much choice now. Mandates are inevitable and it’s a sad reality, but the alternative is so much worse.”
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Kitchen Table Conversations
Community outreach leaders hope Pfizer’s full FDA approval will help overcome any lingering hesitancy, but it will take a personal touch to win over holdouts.
“Because we care about our families and our loved ones, we really need have these kitchen table conversations, and walk through and talk through any questions and concerns anybody may have as a result of hesitancy,” Choi said.
“On a personal level, those of us who do this work know people who are still hesitant or reluctant to get their vaccination. The only way we’re going to break through that is having that one-on-one talk saying, ‘I care about you. I don’t want you to get sick. I don’t want your family to get sick.’ But there’s no magic formula here.”
These conversations from faith-based leaders, community organizations, minority doctors, and everyday confidants such as barbers and hairstylists must also come from a compassionate and respectful place.
“We have to be much more engaging with the resistant community through love, compassion, and respect, and acknowledge that the people that are remaining unvaccinated—many of them are struggling mightily with this decision,” Tuckson said.
“We also have to continue to use every tool at our disposal to make it known about the evidence that now, incontrovertibly, proves that these are not only effective vaccines, but safe.”
Sharing success stories among one another is also key to combating misinformation, said Jorge Moreno, assistant professor of medicine at Yale School of Medicine.
“We have to share facts. For example, my sister lives in Florida and she’s pregnant. She got Covid about a month ago. Like everybody, I worried, but, luckily, she was fully vaccinated. A week later, she did well. She was home. She didn’t go to the hospital. Her baby’s doing well, and she’s back to work. These are facts that we have to put out there,” he said.
“We have to go with what we see and what we know. The misinformation out there is a powerful force, especially in social media. So, we have to kind of clear the webs out and really try to focus attention on the good parts.”
Government Plays Supporting Role
The government will play second fiddle to trusted local leaders in order to crack the remaining holdouts.
“There’s a lot of distrust in agencies but recent studies still show that, within the Black and Hispanic communities, that stamp of approval is important and the government getting that done will help ease the conversation for us,” Moreno said.
“For example, there was great concern in Black and Hispanic communities over the vaccine rollout looking like a ‘rushed process.’ That’s where we come in—to assure our communities that the mRNA vaccines, which have been heavily evaluated since 2020, have actually been in the works for at least 20-30 years. It just got sped up because of Covid.”