In order for the Black community to trust a vaccine for COVID-19, the community is going to need more information and transparency from those making it.
That’s the attitude of state leaders and medical professionals speaking Friday to a conference of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus Foundation.
There is a documented hesitancy to trust vaccinations among people of color, including in Ohio, according to Angela Dawson, state director of the Ohio Commission on Minority Health.
But there has been a decline in that hesitancy, that comes as COVID-19 also becomes one of the leading causes of death for Black Ohioans.
“COVID-19 continues to place a severe burden on communities of color,” Dawson said.
Dawson was also part of the state’s Minority Strike Force, created by Gov. Mike DeWine to study the impact of COVID-19 on minority populations.
In their final report, released in August, Black Ohioans represented 24% of positive COVID-19 cases, but only 14% of the state’s total population. That number has declined since then.
As of Monday, state data showed Black Ohioans representing 11% of COVID-19 cases, but still 19.8% of hospitalizations. They also represent 13.7% of deaths in the state attributed to COVID-19.
The strike force’s recommendations, much like Dawson’s recommendations during the Friday OLBC conference, included cultural competency and health literacy, along with equitable representation in government.
Some of the distrust comes from the speed at which the vaccine was created, according to Dawson, but some of it comes from historical exploitation of people of color.
“We must directly confront and address the deep historical traumas that have created high levels of distrust in the COVID-19 vaccine and the government,” Dawson said.
One of the main historical events mentioned at the conference was the Tuskegee experiment, a study of syphilis that was planned to be six months and ended up lasting 40 years and allowed Black males recruited in the study to have their ailments go untreated for the sake of the study.
According to the CDC,the study began in 1932, and offspring of the original members of the study are still receiving medical and health benefits as part of a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of the participants.
“Those traumas are still felt today, and then when we couple that with our current interactions…those things then justify those concerns,” Dawson said.
There’s also hesitancy related to the lack of diversity in the trials for the COVID-19 vaccine, according to Dawson, which could potentially impact the vaccine’s validity and effectiveness.
A study done by the national group COVID Collaborative showed that 14% of the 1,050 Black American adults surveyed “completely or mostly trust” that the COVID-19 vaccine will be safe, and 18% trust its effectiveness. The study was cited during the OLBC Foundation conference.
“Race and ethnic identities inform some of these attitudes, as does trust in government generally and the vaccination development process specifically,” according to the study.
In the study, 48% of Black adults said they would “probably or definitely” get a coronavirus vaccine if it were free.
Dr. Richard P. Lofgren, president and CEO of UC Health, told the conference that scientists working on the vaccines have been focused on making sure it’s effective in high-risk communities, like the older population and those with pre-existing health conditions, without undermining safety and diligence.
“The science has not been abandoned, the rigor by which we look at the safety…has not been abandoned,” Lofgren said.
In order to get the word out that the vaccine is safe and effective, Dawson said the state has to recognize that the disproportionate way in which the pandemic has affected the Black community and other people of color is unacceptable, “so the efforts to address it must match.”
“It is my hope that there will be a very strategic, intentional, tailored communication plan with all communities,” Dawson said.
Updated data about COVID-19 cases for Black Ohioans was added to this story.