Vaccine Hesitancy Dropped Faster Among Black Individuals, Study Shows

Gaps in vaccination rates may be related to access and not just distrust and skepticism, investigators from Ohio State University find.

Black Americans who were initially hesitant about receiving COVID-19 vaccines were more likely than white Americans to reconsider getting the vaccine as the pandemic wore on and view vaccines as necessary for protection, the results of a new study show.

The research highlights the importance of not making assumptions about race-based viewpoints regarding health care and illustrates the likelihood that access, not just distrust and skepticism, is a significant obstacle to higher levels of COVID-19 protection among Black Americans, investigators from Ohio State University said in the study, which was published in JAMA Network Open.

“From the start of the vaccine rollout, we began to hear about how Black Americans were going to resist vaccinations. Our study highlights that any emphasis on hesitance as the primary challenge to vaccination among Black Americans would be a mistake,” Tasleem Padamsee of Ohio State’s College of Public Health, said in a statement. “We must not lose sight of the significant access barriers that persist, including distant vaccine sites, lack of transportation and inflexible work hours.”

Investigators followed the same group of Americans over time, surveying them about their views regarding the pandemic. This approach helped the investigators measure how group and individual perspectives shifted during the pandemic, when the world was gaining new information about both the vaccines and the virus each day.

Black Americans were less likely to seek vaccines because of distrust shaped by racism, but they are also highly motivated to take care of themselves and their communities, Padamsee said.

Investigators collected data in 7 waves from an initial group of 1200 individuals, with response numbers decreasing modestly as the study progressed. The survey began before vaccines became available in late 2020 and ended in June 2021.

Individuals were asked about their likelihood of getting a vaccine and about their beliefs regarding its efficacy and safety, as well as need for the vaccine.

Investigators found that about 38% of Black individuals and 28% of white individuals were hesitant at the start of the study. By June, 26% of Black individuals and 27% of white individuals were hesitant.

The data suggest that changes in beliefs about the protections the vaccine offered could be a key reason as to why the shift happened.

“The data suggest that Black communities were particularly focused on ways to protect themselves and their communities as more evidence emerged that vaccines were effective and safe,” Kelly Garrett, professor of communication at Ohio State, said in the statement.

“While Black Americans’ intention to get vaccinated has gone up, their actual vaccination rates haven’t gone up as quickly. That suggests that there are other obstacles to vaccination,” Garrett said.

In their paper, the investigators noted that historical traumas, such as the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, provide important context for understanding vaccine hesitance in Black communities.

Reference

Vaccine hesitance dropped faster among Blacks, study finds. EurekAlert. News release. January 21, 2022. Accessed January 25, 2022. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/940601