A college student struggling with multiple health conditions, a Texas cattle farmer eager to reunite with his 90-year-old mother and a restaurant owner who lost too many friends to the pandemic – they are among those who got Covid-19 vaccines despite the general lack of trust in vaccines among communities of color.
America’s history of racism in medical research and a lack of trust in the federal government has made many Black and Latino Americans hesitant to take a vaccine since one was first approved in December. And in the last few months, people of color have been vaccinated at far lower rates than White Americans in part due to this mistrust and a lack of access, experts have said.
Earlier this week, the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Black Coalition Against COVID launched a campaign featuring conversations between W. Kamau Bell, the sociopolitical comedian and host of CNN’s original series “United Shades of America,” and Black doctors, nurses and researchers as they dispel vaccine misinformation.
A recent study from Kaiser shows there’s been increased trust in vaccines across racial and ethnic groups. And more adults said “they’ve already been vaccinated for Covid-19 or want the vaccine as soon as possible.”
However, the study notes that Black and Latino adults are still more likely than White adults to say they will “wait and see” before getting vaccinated. While confidence in vaccines has improved, people are concerned about potential side effects, including getting Covid-19 from a vaccine as well as missing work, the study notes.
CNN spoke with several people of color who have taken the vaccine. They discussed why they did not hesitate to get inoculated and the impact it had in their lives in only a few weeks.
‘Why not protect our culture?’
For Alejandra Tristan, the vaccine is like “extra security” against the virus for her constant medical treatments and doctor’s appointments.
The 23-year-old student at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Central Texas suffers from multiple chronic conditions, including a connective tissue disorder and liver disease. Tristan is part of a clinical trial related to liver disease and contracting Covid-19 would deter her progress substantially.
“We (she and her family) wanted to make sure I was protected so I didn’t have to worry about something else on top of my already pre-existing medical conditions,” Tristan said.
Last August, she had a medical emergency but decided to stay home and seek a doctor remotely instead of going to the emergency room out of fear of being exposed to the virus.
“Now that I know that I at least have the vaccine and both of my parents had the vaccine, if something again were to happen, I (would) feel a little safer going and getting emergency treatment done,” she said.
Tristan said she also wanted to get vaccinated to help those close to her and others in the Latino community.
“We are Latinos. We come from big families and big communities, and we help each other out whenever we can,” Tristan said.
“The fact that some of us don’t want to get vaccinated, it feels to me like it goes against our culture. We’re raised helping one another, whether you’re family, whether you’re friends, whether you’re distant relatives. So why not take the chance to help not only yourself but your community?” she added.
He lost too many people to Covid-19
Nearly a year after Albany, Georgia, was overrun by coronavirus cases, Glenn Singfield Sr. jumped at the chance to get a Covid-19 vaccine.
Singfield, a 68-year-old restaurant owner, said he had lost too many friends, neighbors and church members from the virus and felt a “moral obligation” to get vaccinated.
“The reason I got the vaccine is I want to protect my wife,” Singfield said. “We’ve been together 44 years. I don’t want to take it home to her. I also don’t want to give it anybody in my community. And I don’t want anybody in my community giving it to me.”
Singfield and his wife signed up online and received their first vaccine dose in late January and the second in February. He said he didn’t experience any side effects.
Many Black people have shared their doubts about the vaccine with him, often citing the infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiment – an unethical 1932 study by the US Public Health Service and the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama that examined the progression of syphilis in Black men.
But Singfield said he believes the shot has been adequately tested and will not harm Black people.
“We weren’t the guinea pigs this time,” Singfield said. “They actually had people who went on the trials for the vaccine already.”
Singfield said he prays he can be an example for all Black Americans and his neighbors in Albany.
Vaccine could help Latinos survive Covid-19, farmer says
For months, Jose Ibarra and his grandchildren had only seen his 90-year-old mother from the other side of her home’s fence. He was scared they could get her sick.
“We greeted from across the fence, but I couldn’t go over,” said Ibarra, a 64-year-old who lives in a small cattle farm southwest of San Antonio, Texas.
Weeks after his son was able to secure vaccine appointments for him, his mother and a few members of their family, Ibarra walked across that fence for the first time in nearly a year.
“We said good morning to my mom and gave her a hug,” Ibarra said. “That felt really good.”
Since the pandemic began, Ibarra said he felt vulnerable, even “naked.” After he was used to helping at his local church and volunteered often with local groups, he didn’t dare to talk to anybody outside his home to avoid contracting the virus.
He says he took all those measures because he heard how many Latinos, especially the elderly, have died.
“The vaccine gives us confidence to know that we’re going to survive it,” Ibarra said.
He was wary of the vaccine, but a call changed everything
Victor Green, assistant chief for Kalamazoo Public Safety in Michigan, wanted to see more research before someone injected him with the vaccine. Then, a call for help made him change his mind.
Last year, two officers were called to assist a woman who had Covid-19 and was found unresponsive. Green, 54, was monitoring the call over the police radio.
“I heard over the radio and they did everything they could to bring life-saving measures to bring that person back,” Green said. “The person ended up passing away…and at that moment I said I will take the vaccine.”
Green said he was scared of what the vaccine would do to him, and he linked it to the Tuskegee syphilis experiment. But he also couldn’t forget the toll the virus has taken.
A ventilator couldn’t save a friend who was in his 40s from dying and another friend who contracted the virus and didn’t survive, he said.
“It was to the point me and my wife were so afraid to even look on social media for fear who was going to be next,” he said. “We have some really close friends who didn’t have any type of symptoms or anything and they died.”
After a recent Zoom call with his wife and their closest friends, Green said he found himself convincing others to get the vaccine. He has been vaccinated and told them he had no side effects.
“My close friends are saying, ‘Yeah, I think we’re going to do the vaccine,’” he said.
She badly wants the pandemic to end
Kate Sagara was just months away from graduating college when the pandemic began. While she finished school, Covid-19 put some aspects of her life at a standstill and forced many Asian Americans like her to live in fear.
Asian Americans have not only been scared of becoming ill with Covid-19, Sagara says, they are losing their homes, jobs, and they are becoming victims of widespread racism and bigotry.
“At least me and my family want it to end just as badly as everyone else,” Sagara said.
Sagara, now a childcare worker in San Diego, California, was eligible and recently got vaccinated.
For her, receiving the Covid-19 vaccine is the best way she can help end the pandemic and hopefully reunite with family members she hasn’t been able to see in over a year.
“I just want to do whatever I can to speed up the process for me to be able to see my family and go back to everyday life,” Sagara said.
They wanted to preserve the Cherokee language
Sandra Turner and John Ross are among the thousands of people who can speak the Cherokee language fluently. When the Cherokee Nation began receiving shipments of the Covid-19 vaccine, they were among the first to be vaccinated.
Turner, 64, grew up speaking Cherokee at home in a family of 11 children. Until about first or second grade, she didn’t even know English. And even then, she and the many other Cherokee students at her school would speak to each other in the language they knew best.
People like her are rare and she’s seen firsthand how Covid-19 is threatening her mother tongue. In January, Turner attended the funeral of her children’s father, who died of the virus and spoke the language fluently like herself.
Turner, who lives in Salina, Oklahoma, was grateful to receive an email informing her that she could receive the vaccine.
“We have been losing a lot of our fluent speakers due to the virus,” she said. “And I was ready. I said, ‘I’m getting in line.’”
Ross, who is a translator for the Cherokee Nation, felt a responsibility to get the shot as soon as it was available to him.
“As a Cherokee speaker, there’s probably less than 2,000 speakers left like me that’s alive on the face of this earth,” he said. “They want to keep us as long as we can because we try to help out to preserve our language to the young ones or whoever wants to learn.”
The 65-year-old who lives in Fort Gibson, Oklahoma, has actively worked to preserve the language he grew up with, including getting Cherokee on Microsoft Office programs and making vaccine information from Pfizer and Moderna available in Cherokee.
CNN’s Nicquel Terry Ellis, Adrienne Broaddus and Harmeet Kaur contributed to this report.