Black Americans, who are twice as likely as white people to die from COVID-19, are also less likely to be vaccinated. But a new public service campaign launching Thursday on YouTube aims to change that.
The campaign, called The Conversation: Between Us, About Us, is a partnership between the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Black Coalition Against COVID. The video series addresses concerns about the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines and is designed to promote medical literacy, counter misinformation and be responsive to the ways Black people use the internet, says one of the effort’s developers.
“These are conversations we’re already having,” said pediatrician and public health advocate Rhea Boyd, who developed the series with Reed Tuckson, a founding member of the Black Coalition Against COVID. “Black folks are already talking to their family, to their neighbors, to their friends, to other Black strangers online about what they think about the vaccine, and what they’re considering.
“So we want to just expand that conversation to include those of us who work in health care to say, ‘You know, I’m having the same conversation with my mom. I had it with my big mama. I just had it with my aunt who after talking for a few months, decided to get vaccinated when their employer made it available to them,’ ” she said.
The major barriers to Black people getting vaccinated are not having enough facts and not having convenient access, Boyd said. “So our goal with this project is to respect Black people’s questions and concerns, and to explicitly not label them as ‘vaccine hesitant,’ but to treat them like the sophisticated consumers of health care that they are, and to make sure that their questions and concerns are addressed in a way that speaks directly to them.”
The kickoff video features comedian W. Kamau Bell, host and executive producer of the CNN series United Shades of America. “There’s good news out there — there’s a COVID-19 vaccine,” Bell says in the video. “The bad news is as Black folks, it’s hard to trust what’s going on.” The solution is to turn to those we trust, Bell says. “Not just your uncle at the cookout. Actually not him at all. I’m talking about Black scientists, Black doctors and Black nurses.”
“We’re not just posting something online and hoping Black folks find it,” Boyd said. “We hope it works like how people use the internet, that when you get on YouTube, if you have a question and you want to go down a rabbit hole, we have a safe rabbit hole to go down where all of the information is credible.”
The series will feature up to 50 videos addressing the vaccine process and the needs of specific groups. These include videos on how vaccines work and definitions of clinical trials and herd immunity. There’s a video to address the rumor that vaccines cause infertility, which Boyd said is untrue. There’s an explainer for the “Operation Warp Speed” vaccine development process, and a video to talk about side effects. There’s information about children, the elderly and people with HIV or others, such as pregnant women, with compromised immune systems.
As of mid-February, a third of Black adults were taking a wait-and-see approach with the vaccine. Of those who had received at least one dose of vaccine and where race was identified, only 6% are Black, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
On Tuesday, President Joseph R. Biden announced there will be enough doses for every American adult to be vaccinated by the end of May, months ahead of the projected time frame. When enough vaccine becomes available, the Biden administration plans to launch a $1 billion public awareness campaign encouraging people to get the shots.
Much of what is attributed to vaccine hesitancy among Black people is actually a form of patient blame, said Boyd. Black people “have legitimate concerns that we, as a health system, haven’t respected,” she said. “I’ve been using the example: Surgeons don’t say to patients before surgery, ‘Just trust me, see you in the OR,’ right? Nobody does that. The standard of care is informed consent. You have to sit down with somebody and give all the information, including alternatives and including the risks that happen if you don’t get that procedure. We’re not giving that to Black people, and it’s the standard of care. Instead, we’re saying you’re ‘vaccine hesitant.’ … I want us to shift how we are approaching it.”
Boyd hopes The Conversation series can become part of that shift and any federal public awareness effort to bring COVID-19 information to Black communities.
Her main fear is that major health care organizations with the most power and resources are going to continue to label Black folks “vaccine hesitant,” and that they’ll be dismissive of their legitimate concerns and not direct resources to giving Black people specific kinds of information, and then making the vaccine available in their backyard.
“It is emotional,” Boyd said. “My big mama called me up and just said, ‘Rhea, my doctor called me and said I can get the vaccine. You know, what do you think about this?’ ” Boyd said she pointed out they hadn’t seen each other in more than a year and that she had spent Christmas alone.
“These vaccines are what’ll allow us to come back into community together when all of us are protected to do so,” Boyd said. “So we really want to make sure that, you know, Black folks know that it’s there for them, that it’s safe and that we are willing to go to extreme lengths to make sure that everybody has every concerning question they have answered.”