Biden’s Vaccine Push Isn’t Enough to Win Over Black Americans

Wilbert Marshall, 71, looks away while receiving the COVID-19 vaccine from Melissa Banks, right, a nurse at the Aaron E. Henry Community Health Service Center in Clarksdale, Miss. on April 7, 2021. | AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File

The Biden administration knew the key to a successful Covid vaccination campaign would be reaching the most vulnerable populations. But more than five months in, even a blueprint that’s worked with other ethnic and racial groups isn’t doing enough to win over Black Americans.

Less than a quarter of Black Americans had received their first Covid-19 shot as of June 7 based on available federal data, amid a weekslong stagnation that has defied the government’s ramped-up effort to accelerate vaccinations and reach the nation’s most vulnerable communities.

The slowdown has put Black Americans behind the pace set over the past month by other racial and ethnic groups tracked by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The trend line worries health officials and experts who say the immunization drive is running into a particularly complex web of distrust, outreach challenges and stubborn barriers to access.

“It’s a tough layer that we have to address — it requires relationship building and it’s going to take a little longer,” said Octavio Martinez, executive director of the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, who sits on the White House’s Covid-19 Health Equity Task Force. “We have a systemic issue here.”

One of the task force’s first assignments was recommending ways to build trust in the vaccines and effectively roll them out to those marginalized communities — chief among them Black Americans who are dying from Covid-19 at disproportionate rates. Some early ideas were incorporated into the administration vaccination plan crafted within the White House, task force members said. Yet as the panel has shifted its focus to other, long-term health equity issues in recent months, vaccine disparities have persisted.

“We still have some places where the past history of bias, discrimination and hate has just caused such an ingrained mistrust of political and social structures that it’s hard to break through that,” said James Hildreth, CEO of Meharry Medical College and a task force member. “We need to make a stronger effort to bring the vaccine to the communities, rather than relying on the communities to come to vaccination centers.”

The administration had long anticipated that vaccinating minority groups and other hard-to-reach populations would require a concerted effort, prompting it to assign several Covid-19 response officials to focus on equity issues, in addition to creating the outside task force. The administration and public health experts continue to believe many members of the groups aren’t openly hostile to vaccines, but need reassurance and prodding to get the shots.

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SOURCE: Politico, Adam Cancryn

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