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COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy Decreasing Faster Among Black People Than White, Study Finds

The researchers recommend lowering access barriers to vaccines in the Black community rather than focusing on solving the hesitancy issue.

COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy decreased more rapidly among Black people compared to whites since shots became available in December 2020, according to a study published Friday (Jan. 21) in the journal JAMA Network Open.

Consequently, the authors suggest that attempts to increase the vaccination rate in the Black community should focus on barriers other than hesitancy.

“If it’s not hesitance that’s explaining lower vaccine rates among Black Americans, it’s probably access barriers,” Tasleem Padamsee, lead author of the paper, told Bloomberg Law. “We need to switch our focus to be thinking about: What are the specific access barriers that are affecting specific groups and specific communities? And what do we do to alleviate them?”

In the study, the researchers highlighted several barriers to access, including “distant vaccine sites, lack of transportation, and inflexible work hours” that hinder higher rates of vaccination in at-risk communities.

As of Jan. 10, 60 percent of Whites had at least one COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 54 percent of Blacks in 42 states, Bloomberg reported, citing a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis.

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Vaccine hesitancy increased across the nation between the spring of 2020 when the pandemic emerged and December 2020 when the COVID-19 vaccine became available, the study said.

“This trend was especially pronounced among Black individuals, who consistently had the highest rates of vaccine hesitancy among US racial and ethnic groups,” researchers noted.

Only 36 percent to 49 percent of Blacks, compared with 44 percent to 59 percent of whites, intended to be vaccinated when shots became available. The reasons ranged from safety concerns to conspiracy beliefs.

“Among Black individuals in the U.S., historical racism and institutional racism also drive vaccine distrust,” the researchers acknowledged. “Historical traumas, such as the Tuskegee syphilis study and the unethical and nonconsensual use of cancer cells from Henrietta Lacks, provide important context for understanding vaccine hesitancy among Black individuals.”

The research team surveyed 1,200 adults in the U.S. each month from December 2020 through June 2021. Participants self-reported the likelihood of getting vaccinated, using a six-point scale with six meaning extremely likely to get the shot.

For the first three months, whites in the survey consistently intended to get vaccinated at a higher rate than Blacks. By April 2021, Black participants surpassed white respondents and remained higher through the end of the study.

“A key factor associated with this pattern seems to be the fact that Black individuals more rapidly came to believe that vaccines were necessary to protect themselves and their communities,” the authors stated.

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