LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Once approved, COVID-19 vaccines are expected to be the best defense against contracting the virus. While some eagerly await the opportunity to roll up their sleeve for an immunization, others are hesitant; multiple studies show deep seated mistrust among Black Americans for getting vaccinated.
Louisville Urban League President and CEO Sadiqa Reynolds was not surprised that some are wary of potential coronavirus vaccines.
“If you think about some of the things our community has suffered through, we’ve got a long way to go to really build trust,” she said. “I’ve definitely heard people doubting the safety of the vaccine. I’ve also heard people who say they will be first in line for it. So our community is split on this decision.”
According to the Pew Research Center, only 32% of Black adults say they would definitely or probably take the vaccine. Another study from the COVID Collaborative found a majority of Black and Latinx Americans don’t believe a vaccine will be safe or effective.
Dr. Kelly McCants told WAVE 3 News mistrust in a potential coronavirus vaccine comes from years of medical mistreatment of Black Americans. McCants is the executive director of Norton Healthcare’s Institute for Health Equity.
“The mistrust as it relates to African Americans and the healthcare system is long standing,” he said. “You can go back to the 1900s when Black bodies were used as experiments to determine pain thresholds. Then if your fast forward to the Tuskegee Experiment in Alabama.”
The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment which began in 1932 saw African American men who contracted syphilis intentionally denied available treatment so doctors could study the long-terms effects of the infectious disease. The men in the study were falsely told they were receiving free health care from the federal government.
“So one of the things we can do is understand patients are coming to us with a bias,” McCants said. “We understand that vulnerable populations have a hard time coming to healthcare institutions.”
According to McCants, another issue creating mistrust in medicine is the lack of Black doctors and nurses. Currently, only about 5% of medical providers in America are Black. McCants said he hopes to bridge that gap.
“There are a lot of patients who have never seen a Black physician. On the flip side, there’s going to be a lot my colleagues who don’t get to interact with Black Americans. So me, myself, I have a huge responsibility to make sure that we bring both parties together to understand the vulnerabilities that exist on both sides,” he said.
Regarding vaccine hesitancy, McCants believes it falls on the medical community to break down racial barriers. Once the vaccine arrives, he hopes medical providers communicate vaccine safety in simple terms, offer easy access to the vaccine and hear their patients concerns.
Both McCants and Reynolds also stressed the importance of Black patients knowing their provider had received the vaccine.
“People are currently mistrustful of everything. I think just being transparent on what a vaccine is, how it’s delivered, what the expectations are, that’s crucial,” he said. “For a lot of patients, particularly patients or color we have to do more listening. If you do more listening it helps establish that report.”
Amid the pandemic, Norton Healthcare partnered with the Louisville Urban League to bring drive through COVID-19 testing to west Louisville. Both McCants and Reynolds expressed their hope that drive through vaccinations sites can be utilized in west Louisville.