By Gregory Smith, Howard University News Service
WASHINGTON — Bonnie Harris, a vaccination outreach worker in Washington, D.C., said she has heard just about every explanation and reason why many African Americans aren’t willing to take the vaccine.
Some people are afraid of possible side effects, said Harris, who goes out almost daily to convince Black residents to take the shot under a grant with the Department of Family Medicine at Howard University College of Medicine.
Others tell Harris they consider themselves healthy, and because they have youth on their side, they may get sick, but they will certainly survive the disease, even though the virus has killed more than 600,000 Americans in the past 18 months.
Others, she said, told her they don’t trust the government.
“People think they cooked the vaccine up like scramble eggs, and it’s not like that,” she said.
According to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization focusing on national health issues, Black people have a lower vaccination rate than any other racial group even though they are most impacted by coronavirus. The percent of white people who have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose was 50 percent, the foundation’s study found while the percent of African Americans who had been vaccinated was 40 percent.
Harry Robinson, 34, a manager in Dallas, Texas, is one who refuses to take the vaccine for nearly every reason Harris mentioned.
“It doesn’t make sense to take the vaccine,” Robinson said. “It’s a brand-new virus. How could they possibly have a vaccine already up and running? I feel like I would be sick for a week or two, then I’ll be ok.”
Robinson, who is single with one child, said it is not fair for companies to require employees to take the vaccine.
“That’s not right,” he said. “It should be a choice. Jobs shouldn’t have the power to make you inject something into your body to remain employed.”
Robinson said he would quit his job if it required him to take the vaccine, because it’s unethical. He said he doesn’t believe he is putting his son in jeopardy because he is not vaccinated.
Pfizer, one of the pharmaceutical companies making a Covid-19 vaccine, released data showing African Americans have more health conditions that make them susceptible to serious illness or death from coronavirus. Among African Americans aged 35 to 49, about 10 percent have diabetes compared to 6 percent of whites. Among those ages 18 to 34, 12 percent of Black people have high pressure compared to 10 percent of white Americans. The gap widens in those ages 35 to 49, going to 33 percent for African Americans and 22 percent for white people.
Basir Little, 40, is a Baltimore resident who buys items and then sells them for a profit on eBay. He is among those who are skeptical about the vaccine because of how quickly it developed.
“We don’t know much about the vaccine,” Little said, though the medication has been available and has been administered since January 2021.
He also said the vaccine is part of a conspiracy to control the world’s population.
“The people pushing the vaccine agreed that there are too many people on this planet,” he said. “I will never let my enemy cook for my family.”
Little, who lives with his girlfriend and helps raise the children of family members, was adamant the vaccine is not healthy regardless of what experts say and evidence shows.
“I’m not really afraid of giving the virus to my kids, because it’s not airborne,” he said. “If I were to get it, it would be from something else.”
A recent survey done between the African American Research Collaborative and The Commonwealth Fund found African Americans were more skeptical about the coronavirus vaccine than any other group.
Over 12,000 Americans participated in the survey. African Americans led the polls, with 41.4% saying they were not vaccinated, and they were hesitant to take the vaccine, compared to 39.9 percent of Native Americans, 39.8 percent of Latinos and 36.8% of whites.
To counter skepticism among African Americans, prominent national and local Black figures such as Vice President Kamala Harris, actor Samuel L. Jackson, athletes Charles Barkley, Hank Aaron, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, singer John Legend and Tyler Perry have advocated for African Americans to get vaccinated.
The CDC reported that 99.999% of fully vaccinated Americans have not led to a deadly COVID-19 breakthrough. The data showed that less than 0.004% of fully vaccinated people led to hospitalization and less than 0.001% of fully vaccinated people died from COVID-19.
Harris said that as she talked to people about taking the shot in D.C., she started noticing a trend with unvaccinated Black people. Most of them, she said, don’t have a relationship with their health provider or doctor, and they aren’t willing to conduct their own research or fact check the things that they see on the news or on social media.
Ryan Jackson, a 23-year-old construction worker from Little Rock, Arkansas, was another who said he wouldn’t take the vaccine because he didn’t trust the government.
“The teachings of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan correlate with my beliefs that I shouldn’t get the vaccine because I don’t trust the government,” said Jackson, who describe himself as a Muslim.
He said his existing distrust of the government was increased as he watched the protests around the murder of George Floyd.
Zoie Horton, 23, lives in Chicago where she sells cosmetics online and through social media. She also is skeptical of the vaccine.
“First, they said the vaccine would take at least a year until it came out, because vaccines aren’t just created overnight,” Horton said. “I feel like it came out so quickly to give the general public some type of peace during a time that so many were living in panic and fear. ”
“Everybody that has the vaccine are basically being used as lab rats because we don’t know the long-term effect. I have multiple family members and friends who caught COVID and recovered just fine without the vaccine.”