COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
State and local health leaders are using different outreach methods to overcome coronavirus vaccine hesitancy within communities of color.
Agencies from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services to MU Health Care are using various partnerships to address racial minorities who may be skeptical of the vaccines. That includes linking up with church leaders in hosting vaccination sites to community forums to talk about concerns.
While Americans' willingness to get a coronavirus vaccine has steadily risen in recent months, some surveys find minority respondents are warier. Just 42 percent of Black respondents in a November Pew poll, for example, said they planned on getting vaccinated. That's below the 60 percent willingness among all people that took it, and lowest when broken up by racial groups.
COVID-19 has disproportionately affected Black residents in Boone County. Black residents make up 9.5 percent of the county's COVID-19 case totals, while only making up 8.8 percent of the population.
Yernia Ranjit, a communications professor at the University of Missouri, said hesitancy to get medical interventions come from both actual and perceived barriers. Those perceived barriers include historical abuse racial groups have suffered in the medical field, such as the infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiments.
"Psychologically, [the] African American community historically have been misused, or they have faced discrimination in terms of historically experiencing scientific communities taking advantage of this community," Ranjit said.
Dr. Laura Henderson, associate dean of MU Health Care's diversity and inclusion, said examples of medical abuse could date back to slavery in the United States. Henderson said medical providers should acknowledge that history with patients who may be skeptical of receiving a shot.
“Acknowledgement of that so that support can be provided, but to allow the space for patients to express that frustration and fear, so that they can ask the questions they want to ask," Dr. Henderson said.
Henderson said MU Health Care and the Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services planned on holding a Q&A session with minority communities in the future to talk about any concerns they had about the vaccine. Sara Humm, spokeswoman for the health department, said its ad campaign with Bucket Media "has our Black community members as a specific audience since we know there are historical concerns and mistrust related to the medical field."
Some state leaders have raised questions about the availability of the vaccine within communities of color. U.S. Rep. Cori Bush (D-St. Louis) wrote a letter to the Biden administration asking how it would ensure vaccines made it to "underserved communities," given the response rates from Black respondents.
The state's vaccine dashboard shows that nearly 3 percent of the state's Black population has received at least one shot. Nearly 8 percent of the state's White population has done so, while nearly 22 percent of the "multi-racial" population has gotten one shot.
DHSS director Dr. Randall Williams said it was working with local leaders to reach minority communities. Williams said the department was also targeting social media posts to answer questions specifically held by those communities.
“It all comes back to what [former U.S. Senator] Kit Bond says, which is listen. Listen to the people you’re trying to help, to hear what is most effective," Williams said.