Working through Vaccine Hesitancy in Black Communities

Across the country, Black communities have disproportionately been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. While vaccination offers an opportunity to protect these communities, many Black Americans say they are hesitant to receive the vaccine.

“Unfortunately, Black Americans have valid reasons to mistrust the medical community,” said Calvin Robinson, executive director of Oncology Services at Decatur Memorial Hospital. “It’s important we listen to their concerns with compassion and acknowledge the history of mistreatment and neglect that created this mistrust. It’s only then we can start to rebuild the relationship.”

This hesitancy is due, in large part, to a troubled history between Black patients and the healthcare establishment. According to a poll conducted in 2020 by the Kaiser Family Foundation and website The Undefeated, around 70 percent of African Americans say the U.S. healthcare system treats people unfairly “very often” or “somewhat often” based on their race.
This perception is not unfounded. Studies show that systemic racism influences every aspect of the care provided to Black patients, which can lead to negative outcomes.

Decades of racial inequities in healthcare won’t be erased quickly. But one-on-one conversations about the relationship between race and the medical profession can help break down barriers and improve trust, especially when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccinations. Healthcare professionals can help decrease vaccine hesitancy in communities of color by listening to concerns and validating past experiences.

“Listening is key,” said Nicole Florence, MD, medical director of the Memorial Weight Loss & Wellness Center and longtime family physician. “As medical providers, it can be tempting to tell our patients what to do—for example, getting vaccinated for COVID-19—without listening closely to how they respond. We need to allow them to express their fears and uncertainties without being dismissive.”

Have questions or concerns about COVID-19 vaccinations? See the below articles for additional information.

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