SoCal doctor says vaccine access, not hesitancy is bigger road block for communities of color

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Health officials are trying to get as many people vaccinated as possible to bring the COVID-19 pandemic to an end, but some people are hesitant to get the shots.

Now, we can track rates of hesitancy across the country.

As a nurse, 27-year-old Nicole Smith of Fontana could have been among the first to get a COVID-19 vaccine, but she chose to hold off.

"I just feel like there's not enough experiments," she said. "There's not enough trials. There's not enough research out there."

Smith lives in San Bernardino County, where a newly-released Census Bureau and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey shows vaccine hesitancy at 13%. In Los Angeles County, 11% of respondents say they're hesitant. That's low compared to 32% in places across the country like Carbon County, Wyoming.

But in areas like East Vernon and South Los Angeles, where the majority are people of color, 16% said they were vaccine hesitant.

Dr. Willie Goffney is a surgeon with Lakewood Regional Medical Center

"I think a lot of people in the Black community don't necessarily want to be first in line, but it doesn't mean they don't want to be in line," Goffney said.

Goffney said he believes the percentage of people of color who want the vaccine has gone up since the survey was done. He doubts historical mistrust of doctors and the government is to blame.

"I've never been asked by a patient about the Tuskegee Experiment," he said.

The real road block in zip codes where predominantly minorities live is not hesitancy, but rather access, he said.

"If you look at the number of distribution sites in primarily Black communities, the sites are few and far between," Goffney said.

Smith says the Johnson & Johnson pause has added to her concerns.

"I want to be around for my son," she said. "I don't want to take the risk of getting something that we don't fully understand yet."

"A lot of people tend to believe that these vaccines were developed too quickly to be effective, but that's just not true," Goffney said. "Scientists have been working on the technology for developing mRNA vaccines for a decade."

"I would urge other people to make sure that they do the research and make sure that they're making the best decision for themselves and their families," Smith said.

"The risk of a severe complication or even death from actually contracting COVID-19 is so much higher than the risk of having a complication from the vaccine," Goffney said. "And I strongly encourage my patients to go and be vaccinated."

To track vaccine concerns in your community and around the country, check out our vaccine hesitancy tracker tool.
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