Misinformation and disinformation are the primary drivers for vaccine hesitancy in African American and Latino neighborhoods.
Still, individuals should cautiously seek trusted voices in their respective communities who only present life-saving facts.
That is the message from two of the nation’s leading physicians, who are members of the White House COVID-19 Response Team.
In a special live interview with the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith and Dr. Cameron Webb extolled the importance of everyone getting fully vaccinated.
They told NNPA President/CEO Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., NNPA Chair Karen Carter Richards, and other members of the Black Press that the Biden-Harris administration is not only meeting, but exceeding, expectations of making vaccines available to all communities.
“We see misinformation all of the time and folks ask questions that are rooted in disinformation,” said Dr. Webb, the senior policy advisor for COVID-19 equity and a physician and professor at the University of Virginia.
“As it gets spread from person to person, from family to family, and friend to friend, it’s so important for the Black Press to tell the story of what is happening on the ground. Grandmothers can spend time with their grandchildren again. These vaccines are a key path to get back to normal life. Science bears out that these vaccines are safe. The real risk is COVID-19, the virus, not the vaccine.”
President Biden recently announced a goal of vaccinating at least 70% of the adult U.S. population by July 4.
With more than 105 million fully vaccinated to date, the goal is viewed by many as well within reach.
“Ultimately, we’re trying to get everyone vaccinated who are medically able to,” said Dr. Nunez-Smith, the director of the White House’s COVID-19 Equity Task Force and associate professor of internal medicine, public health, and management at Yale University.
“What I stress is that this has to be a community-level goal, too. It’s about getting everyone in our social network, our community, vaccinated.”
Dr. Webb pointed to each of the three vaccines – Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. He said each has proven safe.
“They work a little different, but each teaches your body how to recognize the threat of COVID-19,” Dr. Webb said. “[The vaccines] are not giving you the virus. It’s teaching your body how to recognize the bad guy: the virus. We have great data, and before they ever made it to market, over 75,000 people went through clinical trials and over 10% were Black, and in one trial, over 20% were Latino. We have 105 million people vaccinated, and the data we have tells us that it is safe.”
Part of the vaccine hesitancy lies in the belief that vaccinations had become politicized, and many did not have confidence in the review process, Nunez-Smith said.
“Those processes are transparent, and we should have high confidence,” she said. “There is diverse representation in the trials and the scientists who were a part of the review process.”
Dr. Nunez-Smith also referred to the rigorous systems behind the surveillance of the vaccines.
“When we talk about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, one of the takeaways is that it strengthened my confidence in how the surveillance works,” she said.
“Almost eight million doses were administered, but they found those six cases of blood clots, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention paused it to review the data and to figure out how to treat the blood clots and to let the people know what symptoms might present. No steps were skipped.”
As for the number of minorities receiving the vaccine, the task force members said the numbers are grossly misreported.
“We do have an idea how many Black people have received the vaccine,” Dr. Webb said. “The reporting shows that a little less than nine percent where we know their ethnicity are Black, 12% are Hispanic. However, there is a lot of missing data. For about 40% of the shots in the arms, we don’t know the ethnicity or race because it hasn’t always been required data. We have been working closely with states on that.
“We also can look by zip codes and the concentration of communities of color. We know we still have work to do and ground to make up, but in terms of precise numbers, we still have missing data.”
NNPA’s chairwoman of the board, Karen Carter Richards, said she’s looking forward to working with the White House to continue providing accurate information about the vaccines to communities of color.
“The Black Press is the trusted voice of the Black community,” the chair said. “In fact, in many communities we are the mainstream press, and we will give our readers, our subscribers, what they’ve come to expect from the Black Press: honest and valuable information.”
“The NNPA wants to continue to work with Dr. Nunez-Smith, Dr. Webb, and The White House COVID-19 Response Team,” Dr. Chavis said, “to ensure that Black America receives updated and vital information about this devastating pandemic. As the trusted voice of the Black community, the Black Press stands ready to assist.”