Black vaccine hesitancy plummets

AP Photo/Morry Gash, Pool

One of the recurring themes in the media’s coverage of the pandemic has been the various reports of people in the Black community being “hesitant” to get vaccinated or simply refusing. The reasons given varied, ranging from an erroneous belief that African-Americans were somehow genetically immune to the virus to mistrust of the United States government when it comes to healthcare for minorities. (An understandable fear when you think about the Tuskegee syphilis experiments.) The numbers in many surveys backed up those perceptions. As NBC News reports this week, a survey in December revealed that 52% of Black Americans intended to “wait and see” before getting vaccinated. That figure was nine points higher than hesitancy among Latinos and 18 points higher than the white population.

But now the situation appears to have evolved fairly quickly. A survey conducted in March showed a dramatic swing in the tides. Even more interestingly, there’s been something of a roll reversal between whites and Blacks in this regard.

In a March survey by KFF, 55 percent of Black respondents said they wanted the vaccination as soon as possible or were already vaccinated. Twenty-four percent were still holding back to wait and see about the vaccine’s effects. Meanwhile, Republicans and white evangelical Christians were the most likely groups to say they will not be vaccinated, according to the survey.

Medical professionals predicted vaccine hesitancy might be an issue for communities of color that were hit hard by the virus but had also been historically underserved or discriminated against when it came to health care. There has also been long-held mistrust of medical systems, since Black people had been subjected to cruel experimentations in the past, most notably in the U.S. Public Health Service Syphilis Study at Tuskegee.

You can read the full results of the survey here, but the shift is obvious and it’s happening across the board. Overall, 62% of Americans said they have either already been vaccinated or are planning to be “as soon as possible.” As already noted, Black respondents are all the way up to 55%, with Hispanics coming in at 61%. The article notes that “Republicans and white evangelical Christians” are the most likely to say they will not be vaccinated, but that’s a bit misleading. Overall, whites are still the most likely to participate, with 64% saying they have been jabbed or will be as soon as the option is available.

That’s still not close to the highest numbers we’ve been told are required for herd immunity, but it’s getting there.The percentage of all Americans who are still saying they will “definitely not” be vaccinated has fallen to 13%. Assuming that’s accurate, we would still end up somewhere close to 90% if all of the “maybe” category people eventually decide to do it.

Of course, there’s a new fly in the ointment every day, or so it seems. We won’t know for a while yet what the news about the “pause” on the J&J vaccine is going to do to people’s confidence. Anyone who reads beyond the headlines or the chyron at CNN will realize that we’re talking about six women experiencing blood clots out of literally six million people receiving the vaccine. It’s literally a one-in-a-million chance at this point, so you can see how it wouldn’t have shown up in the clinical trials, assuming there’s even a causal relationship.

Perhaps it won’t come as a surprise to learn that young adults ages 18-29 were most likely to be in the “wait and see” group. Fully one-quarter of them (25%) were unwilling to commit. That’s probably less because they are suspicious of the vaccine’s safety than the widely reported figures showing that otherwise healthy young adults almost never die or develop symptoms severe enough to require hospitalization. If you are in that group and have any doubts at all, why take the chance if the odds are so heavily in your favor that you’ll be sick for a few days at home (if it’s even that bad) and come away with natural immunity? I don’t know that I would try to convince anyone in that category otherwise because it makes pretty good sense to me.

We are now reportedly on track to hit 200 million vaccinated by the end of next month. That’s well over half of the country. As usual, I’ll close by urging everyone to stay in touch with your elected representatives and let them know that we expect a full reopening of the country sooner rather than later. And a refusal to do so will carry consequences at the ballot box next year.