CNN’s Don Lemon and Dr. Sanjay Gupta explore vaccine hesitancy in the Black community on CNN TV’s “The Color of Covid: The Vaccines” Friday, December 18 at 10p ET.
Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice wants to turn vaccine hesitancy into acceptance in the Black community.
The dean at the Morehouse School of Medicine took her first Covid-19 vaccine shot Friday morning on CNN with Dr. Sanjay Gupta at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta.
Rice said she understands some Black Americans are concerned about the nation’s history of racism in medical research, but insists she wouldn’t recommend a vaccine she didn’t trust.
Rice said Black scientists and doctors helped develop the vaccine and sat on the FDA and CDC advisory boards. Black people are also looking at the data, she added.
“We are in the rooms where it’s happening,” Rice said. “So we clearly are not going to go against ourselves. Because we understand how critical this is for Black America and Latinx America who have been disproportionately impacted by the virus.”
Morehouse is among the historically Black colleges and universities, Black sororities and fraternities and prominent Black pastors who are leading national efforts to remove the stigma around the Covid-19 vaccine as a large swath of Black Americans remain hesitant to get the shot.
The Morehouse School of Medicine is working to distribute information about the vaccine on fliers, webinars, panels, hotlines and is urging Black, Latino and Native Americans to participate in vaccine trials.
Lilly Immergluck, principal investigator for the Covid vaccine study at the college, said she believes Morehouse should be on the frontlines promoting the vaccine because it is a trusted source in the Black community. The college is currently recruiting people of color to participate in clinical trials for the Novavax vaccine.
“We want to be that source of information that people can rely on and know that we are going to do our very best by them in order for us to all get out of this pandemic,” Immergluck said.
Earlier this week, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams told CNN’s Jake Tapper he was meeting with the presidents of the Divine Nine – a group of nine Black sororities and fraternities – to discuss efforts to create vaccine trust in the Black community.
Among those groups was Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. which is leading its own campaign to educate Black and brown people about the vaccine, said Ron Peters, chairman of the fraternity’s Covid-19 International Task Force.
“We represent every culture of Black people in the United States,” Peters said. “We have a legacy of being trusted individuals in the community that selflessly go out to serve humankind.”
Peters said the task force is focused on reviewing data for all the vaccines before it takes the information to the community. Peters said he wants to ensure the fraternity is promoting a vaccine that is safe — particularly for pregnant women and people with preexisting conditions — and highly effective.
Once the task force feels confident in the data, it will begin partnering with churches, local fraternity chapters, barbershops, and using social media to encourage people to take the vaccine, Peters said.
“We want the vaccine with the strongest efficacy,” Peters said.
‘I trust my profession is deeply rooted in science,’ nurse says
According to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 35% of Black Americans say they would probably or definitely not get the vaccine if it was determined to be safe by scientists and widely available for free.
The study found that Black people who don’t trust the vaccine are largely concerned about possible side effects — which doctors say are mild — and believe they could get Covid-19 from taking the vaccine.
Other studies have noted that Black and Latino people cite the nation’s history of racism in medical research — notably the historic Tuskegee Experiment — as a key reason for their hesitancy.
The Tuskegee experiments from 1932-1972 recruited 600 Black men — 399 who had syphilis and 201 who did not — and tracked the disease’s progression by not treating the men as they died or suffered severe health issues.
As Pfizer rolled out the first shipments of its vaccine this week, some Black nurses and doctors took the vaccine on live video this week to combat fears in the Black community.
Among them was Sandra Lindsay, a critical care nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Centers, who received the shot on Monday from Dr. Michelle Chester, the corporate director of employee health services at Northwell Health, who is also Black.
“I have no fear. I trust my profession is deeply rooted in science …” Lindsay told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “What I don’t trust is getting Covid-19 because I don’t know how it will affect me and the people around me that I could potentially transfer the virus to.”
On Wednesday, some 50 Black pastors from the Choose Healthy Life Black Clergy Action Plan, held a Zoom summit with Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, and Dr. Tom Frieden to discuss health disparities in the Black community, fighting Covid-19 and the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine.
Choose Healthy Life is a partnership of Black churches across the country that aims to combat the pandemic’s impact on the Black community. The group has pivoted from providing free Covid-19 testing earlier this year to launching a national education campaign to promote awareness of the vaccine.
Summit discussions highlighted the importance of Black clergy and the nation’s top doctors working together to ensure a successful rollout of the vaccine, according to Choose Healthy Life.
“As religious leaders, it is our duty to advocate for the health and survival of our community, provide our congregations with accurate information and guide society at large to a place of moral well-being,” said Rev. Al Sharpton, co-chair of the Choose Healthy Life Black Clergy Action Plan. “As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, religious leaders should serve as a thermostat that transforms society, not a thermometer that takes the temperature and allows social pressure to influence it.”
‘Skepticism is real,’ but groups are dispelling misinformation
Barbershops and hair salons have also become central to the conversation about vaccines because they are cornerstones in the Black community.
Stephen Thomas, a professor of health policy and management at the University of Maryland in College Park, is hosting Zoom town halls where doctors and scientists teach Maryland-based barbers, stylists and their clients about the vaccine.
The effort is part of Thomas’ initiative Health Advocates In-Reach and Research, or HAIR, that provides cancer screenings at barbershops and hair salons.
Thomas said the town halls help dispel misinformation around the vaccine.
“The barbers and the stylists have trust,” Thomas said. “It’s a big deal, it’s a family affair. It’s a place where Black people come together across all their socioeconomic divisions.”
Elsewhere, civil rights leaders including Sharpton, activists and doctors in New York formed a task force to address concerns in the Black community about the vaccine and create equitable access. Leaders say they hope the task force can become a national model for Black communities.
The task force plans to push an aggressive campaign that it says will disseminate accurate information about the vaccine.
Jennifer Jones Austin, a task force member and executive director of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, said many Black and brown people have been scarred by healthcare disparities for decades and won’t take the vaccine without getting their questions answered by trusted leaders.
“The skepticism is real,” Austin said. “We’ve got to do the work of helping people to understand why this vaccine may be of value and a great resource for combating the disease.”