Why the COVID-19 vaccine is especially important in minority communities.

Updated Aug. 24, 2021

Millions of Americans have received COVID-19 vaccines. Americans 12 and older are eligible to receive.

Data from clinical trials reported that the vaccines — developed by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen (J&J) — are safe and effective with minimal side effects.

But some are still skeptical of the COVID-19 vaccine for a variety of reasons. Many Americans are indicating they are unwilling to get the vaccine.

Black Americans are showing particular uncertainty about getting the COVID-19 vaccine. According to studies, they are less likely than many other Americans to get vaccinated when the vaccine is available to them.

Black Americans and other minority groups are at higher risk of COVID-19, with health disparities a major reason. Getting the vaccine is crucial for stopping the spread of COVID-19 and putting an end to the pandemic.

Tracey Conti, MD, executive vice chair of the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, discusses the impact of health disparities on minority communities and what that means for COVID-19 vaccination efforts.

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The Effect of COVID-19 on Minorities

Minority populations in the United States are at higher risk of COVID-19 infection and complications compared to white Americans.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show:

  • Black Americans are 1.4 times more likely to be infected, 3.7 times more likely to be hospitalized, and 2.8 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than white Americans
  • American Indian or Alaska Native, non-Hispanic Americans are 1.8 times more likely to be infected, 4 times more likely to be hospitalized, and 2.6 times more likely to die than white Americans
  • Asian-Americans are 1.2 times more likely to be hospitalized and 1.1 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than white Americans
  • Hispanic or Latino Americans are 1.7 times more likely to be infected, 4.1 times more likely to be hospitalized, and 2.8 times more likely to die than white Americans

Minorities may be at higher risk for COVID-19 for a variety of reasons. But health disparities are a primary factor.

Health disparities are preventable and disproportionate health conditions and inequalities that exist among all ages in a certain population.

Disparities can come from many factors, including access to health care, living environment, and physical environment. These disparities magnify other health issues and risks.

“(COVID-19) has really highlighted health disparities and brought the issue to the current conversation,” Dr. Conti says. “I think this is always in the community, but just not really talked about. Now, I think there’s a more open conversation because people see that Black and Brown communities were being affected more and dying more.”

How Do Minorities View the COVID-19 Vaccine?

Recent polls show Black Americans have skepticism about the COVID-19 vaccine.

A December poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation reported 35% of Black American adults said they probably or definitely would not get the vaccine (compared to 26% of white adults). A Pew Research poll in December reported only 42% of Black Americans said they would get the vaccine (compared to 61% of white adults).

Dr. Conti says factors like health disparities, systemic racism, and past incidents like the Tuskegee experiment have caused many Black Americans to distrust the health care system. Skepticism in the COVID-19 vaccine is an example of that mistrust.

Misinformation and politicization about the vaccine also may be playing a role, Dr. Conti adds.”We need to have a good way of addressing the mistrust and talking about it.”

Addressing Minority Mistrust in the COVID-19 Vaccine

With the increased risk of COVID-19 in minority communities, it is important to fight people’s skepticism of the vaccine. Community leaders, health care professionals, and elected officials can help in several ways:

  • Be good examples: It’s important for leaders — especially if they’re minorities themselves — to share facts about the COVID-19 vaccine, including why they are getting the vaccine when it’s available.
  • Be transparent: Explaining the vaccine process — including the speed of its development, its benefits, and potential side effects — can help address concerns. It is also important to explain why the vaccine is so important for minority communities. “We want to make the process as transparent as possible,” Dr. Conti says.
  • Personalize the message: Leaders should recognize different people may have different reasons for skepticism. “It’s targeting that message,” Dr. Conti says. “Making sure that we are addressing their specific concerns and not just doing something superficial.”
  • Make the message consistent: Community, health care, and government leaders should have a consistent message about why the vaccine is important. Conflicting responses can cause more uncertainty. The message also should be consistently reinforced. “There has to be a recognition that you’re not going to be able to convince everybody with just one conversation,” Dr. Conti says.
  • Provide equal access: Access to COVID-19 care and COVID-19 vaccines should be equal to people in all communities. “Leaders should advocate for equal vaccine access, the same way they advocated for COVID-19 testing,” Dr. Conti says.

Making sure people have the right information and equal access could go a long way in addressing the concerns minority communities have about COVID-19 and the vaccine.

“Knowledge is power,” Dr. Conti says. “When you start educating people and educating them in a way that they’re understanding it, and breaking down how we came to the vaccine, why were they able to get this vaccine quickly … I believe in educating as much as possible, for people to have the information to make a good, informed decision.”

The UPMC Center for Engagement and Inclusion advocates for health equity in all communities. Read more on how UPMC promotes health equity.

For COVID-19 updates from UPMC, visit UPMC.com/COVID19.

Sources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 Hospitalization and Death by Race/Ethnicity. Link

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities. Link

Kaiser Family Foundation, KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor: December 2020. Link

Pew Research Center, Intent to Get a COVID-19 Vaccine Rises to 60% as Confidence in Research and Development Process Increases. Link

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