THE HUTCHINSON REPORT
By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
I knew better than to question, debate, let alone criticize a good friend when she vigorously shook her head when the subject of getting a COVID vaccination came up.
It was not the first time that she flatly ruled out vaccination. She did not spin the usual conspiracy stuff, or that the vaccine was poison, and would make one deathly ill. She simply was wary of it.
Since the COVID vaccine rollout, African-American medical groups, civil rights leaders and elected officials have pleaded, implored and practically begged African Americans on social media, in press releases and viral town hall meetings to get vaccinated. They have produced study after study and report after report vouching for the safety of the three vaccines now available.
The Biden administration has repeatedly said getting Blacks, Hispanics, other minorities and the poor vaccinated as a major priority. There has been a major push by health care providers and community groups to promote the accessibility of vaccine sites, and even provide transportation to the sites.
Eight months after the first vaccine rollout, the good news is that an increased number of Blacks are taking the plunge and getting vaccinated. There’s been ample time for even the faintest-hearted and fearful to see that tens of thousands aren’t dropping like flies in sickness or death after getting vaccinated.
Yet, none of this meant anything to the vaccine skeptics like my friend. A still troubling number of Blacks, along with white Christian evangelicals and a large swatch of Donald Trump-influenced Republicans, still are adamant in resisting a COVID vaccination. Their continuing resistance to vaccination was confirmed in several recent studies.
I have conducted four informal polls on Facebook since last February on the question of getting vaccinated. The most recent was in the first week of August.
Most of those responding were Black. Unlike in the three first polls, where respondents said no to vaccination, this time the responses were evenly split between yes and no. This reflects the changing attitudes about vaccinations.
However, the poll showed that many Blacks were still wary. That wariness shows up in state vaccination numbers. Less than half of the states have vaccinated more than a third of their Blacks in their states. The other states are also lagging badly in vaccinating African Americans.
Many Blacks are not just wary of a COVID vaccine. They are wary of almost all vaccines.
Countless surveys have shown that Blacks are less likely to get vaccinated as prevention to just about every infectious disease even though they are far more likely to die from those same diseases as whites.
Vaccines do work and have saved tens of thousands of lives. This has been proven with the COVID vaccines.
Yet, the cajoling, the availability of no-cost vaccines, the massive public health education campaigns on the importance of vaccinations have done little to scrub away the suspicion, reluctance and outright fear among many Blacks of vaccinations.
The racist medical conspiracy line certainly stokes the fear of some Blacks. For others, it’s the finding of endless studies, surveys and reports. They show that Blacks are at the top of the list of groups at highest risk from every conceivable disease, affliction and malady.
Yet, countless studies have also shown that they have suffered medical indifference and skepticism if not outright neglect on the part of many medical practitioners. That is certainly more than enough to create doubt and even hostility toward anything from the medical community with a new life-saving stamp on it.
Conspiracies, distrust, racial double standards past and present, topped by the continuing uncertainty over the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines creates the perfect storm of doubt and outrage over the merits of vaccines. In truth, Blacks are hardly unique in their skepticism about vaccines, any vaccines.
Pew Research Surveys found that a significant number of Americans are deeply skeptical of the safety and risk of COVID vaccinations as well as other vaccines.
Since last December, 400 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered. More than 165 million Americans, or half of the adult Americans, have been vaccinated. Yet that figure does not come close to the minimal target of 70% vaccinations, which health experts say is needed to ensure that the nation has turned the corner on combating the disease.
The paradox in that almost from the moment the coronavirus pandemic hit, Blacks screamed the loudest that they feared that they would be the hardest hit by the pandemic. The disproportionate death rate of Blacks from COVID certainly bore out this fear.
The new health threat, the Delta Variant, has further sharpened the debate over vaccinations. It’s a debate that no matter whether one, like my friend, says no to a vaccine, or the many who say yes to it, will continue to have major health consequences for African Americans.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of “Bring Back the Poll Tax! — The GOP War on Voting Rights” (Middle Passage Press). He also is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.