Black Americans have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19—more than any other racial or ethnic group in the U.S. Black adults are also likelier to want to “wait and see” before getting a COVID-19 vaccine, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll. Given this vaccine hesitancy, it is important for physicians and other health professionals to understand how to talk with their Black patients about COVID-19 vaccination.
In a two-part interview hosted by the national Release the Pressure (RTP) campaign, Black radio icon Tom Joyner was joined by Oliver T. Brooks, MD, the National Medical Association’s immediate past president, Thrive Chicago’s Chief Equity Officer Christopher Goins and Charles Harris, a partner at Mayer Brown LLP, to discuss racism in health care. The RTP campaign encourages the Black community to attend to the critical issue of high blood pressure and self-care. Read about how a stroke led radio icon Tom Joyner to push Black heart health.
An important part of that self-care during the pandemic is to get vaccinated. Learn how physicians help.
“There’s a lot of vaccine hesitancy,” which has a lot to do with history in medicine, said Dr. Brooks. That includes the Tuskegee experiment and other ugly episodes.
“It’s not fanciful that there is a concern. It’s not a conspiracy theory like a lot of the things we’re hearing. It is real,” Dr. Brooks said. To overcome this hesitancy, “address it straight on” by saying, “Yes, there are issues with African Americans in the past,” but we have learned from those mistakes.
“What we did at the National Medical Association is we met with Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and J& J [Johnson and Johnson], and asked their top scientists” about the vaccines,” said Dr. Brooks. After learning more about each COVID-19 vaccine that is currently available, “we support recommendations by the U.S. FDA to approve emergency use authorization for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine."
“We have to have trusted messengers get out there and state categorically, ‘If you don’t get the vaccine, you’re going to end up with COVID,’” he said, adding that without the vaccine, COVID-19 is “not going to be rid from our community. We’re dying at two to three times the rates.”
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the AMA is curating critical health equity resources from across the web to examine the structural issues that contribute to and could exacerbate already existing inequities.
Relating back to the history of mistrust, “Tuskegee was 50 years ago, and we’ve learned from Tuskegee,” said Dr. Brooks, adding that “we were 10% of the clinical trials of both vaccines that are on the market right now.”
Additionally, each COVID-19 vaccine has “been monitored in terms of the clinical trials by African Americans,” he said. “People should know there’ve been African Americans involved in the actual science of this.
“We have to make it clear. … We need to have the message done properly,” added Dr. Brooks.
This virtual discussion was part of Release the Pressure, which brings together a diverse coalition of health professional organizations—the RTP heart health squad—who are dedicated to partnering with the Black community to improve heart health. The coalition includes the AMA, AMA Foundation, Association of Black Cardiologists, American Heart Association, Minority Health Institute and National Medical Association. Learn how your care team can be involved.
The AMA offers a COVID-19 vaccines guide for physicians to help build trust in vaccine safety and efficacy. This guide contains background and actions, evidence-based messaging guidance and best practices for consideration in external communications on COVID-19 vaccine topics.