Survey shows African Americans less likely to want COVID-19 vaccine

As a panel of FDA advisors Thursday recommended emergency authorization of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine, surveys showed increasing support for a coronavirus vaccine but also indicated Americans' readiness to get immunized varied by race.

According to the latest Pew Research Survey, African Americans were among the least likely to express comfort with a vaccine.

While more than eight out of 10 Asian Americans indicated they would get a COVID-19 vaccine if one were available today, and just over six out of 10 white and Hispanic adults indicated they would get vaccinated, just over 4 out of 10 African Americans said they would get the vaccine.

"As African Americans we haven't had the best experiences in the medical field. The history is there," said Tori Hobson, who lost her grandmother to COVID-19 and plans to get the coronavirus vaccine when it's available but said she also understands people's hesitance.

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That history of mistrust by African Americans comes in part from doctors and scientists using African Americans in medical studies without their permission and even withholding treatment, as well as ongoing disparities in access to quality healthcare.

Among the most notable cases of abuse is the 40-year Tuskegee study in which health officials withheld proper treatment of African Americans to study syphilis, as well as the unauthorized use of Henrietta Lacks' cancer cells in a cervical cancer study.

"I think most people agree having a vaccine would be great but at the same time there is this worry about being used as guinea pigs," said April Thames, a clinical neuropsychologist and associate professor at the University of Southern California, who has studied the impact of racism on science and health.

"We have to break down and admit that there has been structural racism and bias within biomedical science and that we need to do better at rectifying this problem so that people do participate."

African Americans made up about 10% of the U.S. participants in both the Phase 3 Moderna and Pfizer trials, according to both companies.

Noel Jones II said he participated in the Moderna study in response to fears he heard about the vaccine from members of his community.

"The fear behind a trial was palpable," Jones II said. "And I just wanted to be an example, nothing more than that. I'm still around. I'm not scared of it. Please, don't be overly fearful."

Jones' wife, Dr. Cozzette Lyons-Jones, has worked hard to eliminate disparities in healthcare and currently serves as the chief of adult medicine at Watts Healthcare Corp.

"As an African American doctor it is a challenge and it hurts to see the people who need it the most struggling with whether or not they will accept this vaccine," Dr. Lyons-Jones said. "We are dying disproportionately."

Dr. Lyons-Jones added she's confident that any vaccine that is approved will be safe.

"Trust us on this," Dr. Lyons-Jones said. "That is my heart's desire."

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Hobson said she also has high hopes for the promise of a coronavirus vaccine.

"If we are going to move forward in the world, in life, we absolutely need a vaccine," Hobson said. "We don't want to be wearing masks for the rest of our lives."

Hobson said she hopes a vaccine will help keep other families from knowing the pain she feels of losing a loved one to the virus.

"Someone who was loved and needed," Hobson said. "I think losing someone you love to COVID-19 definitely shifts your perspective on the vaccine and living life in this pandemic."

Thames said the science community has unintentionally contributed to a lack of public trust by taking too long to share information about science and medical studies with the public.

She says that is something they are working to change including correcting misinformation being disseminated about a coronavirus vaccine.
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