Earl Ofari Hutchinson
The day I got the first in the series of two COVID vaccination shots at a Kaiser facility in predominantly Black and Hispanic South L.A. there were as many white and non-Blacks in line for the vaccination as there were African Americans. Now bear in mind African American medical groups, civil rights leaders, and elected officials have pleaded, implored, and practically begged African Americans on social media, in press releases, and viral townhalls to get vaccinated. They have produced study after study, and report after report, vouching for the safety of the two vaccines now available. Yet, none of their pleadings has shaken the wariness of many African Americans who say no deal on a shot.
In addition, there has been a loud and steady drumbeat of shouts at L.A. County officials to do more, more, and more to flood the area with vaccines, immunization locations, and to mount massive media and public education campaign to ensure Blacks get vaccinated. Or, at the very least, provide them with adequate well promoted and accessible access to vaccination sites.
There has been a slow and steady rise in the number of Blacks getting vaccinated. But and this is the still tormenting and deadly but, Blacks still rank at the bottom of the vaccination totem pole. Wealthy, and middle-class whites rank at runaway top of the chain of those vaccinated. These areas in Los Angeles County with 25% or more of its population having received at least one dose of vaccine–Bel Air, Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Century City, Cheviot Hills, and Rolling Hills Estates. They’re among the richest areas in the nation. The same pattern of who gets it first and last can be found in just about any other area of the country.
Several Kaiser Foundation polls bear out this grim lag between Blacks and whites and others. The polls found something even more disturbing. That’s that a significant percentage of Blacks say they won’t get vaccinated practically if the vaccine was available on their doorstep.
The deep fear and mistrust among many Blacks has not abated one iota despite the continuing grim sickness, hospitalization, and death figures from COVID-19. The figures continue to show one thing: African Americans are far more likely to get sick, get hospitalized, and to die from a COVID-triggered malady than whites.
Last November, I did an informal Facebook poll on the question of getting vaccinated. There were dozens of responses. The responses were anecdotal. However, most of those responding were Black. Many said no then to a vaccination. Three months later I took a similar poll. The number who said no was still high. The resistance among many had not abated and they gave the same reasons as earlier why they wouldn’t get vaccinated.
There’s more. Many Blacks are not just wary of a COVID vaccine. They are wary of almost all vaccines. Countless surveys have shown that Blacks are less likely to get vaccinated as prevention to just about every infectious disease even though they are far more likely to die from those same diseases than whites.
Vaccines do work and have saved tens of thousands of lives. This almost certainly will eventually be the case with the new COVID vaccines. Yet, the cajoling, the availability of no-cost vaccines, the massive public health education campaigns on the importance of vaccinations have done little to scrub away the suspicion, reluctance, and outright fear among many Blacks of vaccinations.
The racist medical conspiracy line certainly stokes the fear of some Blacks of a COVID vaccine. For others, it’s the finding of endless studies, surveys, and reports. They show that Blacks are at the top of the list of groups at highest risk from every conceivable disease, affliction, and malady.
Yet, countless studies have also shown that they have suffered medical indifference and skepticism if not outright neglect on the part of many medical practitioners. This is certainly more than enough to create doubt and even hostility toward anything from the medical community with a new supposed life-saving stamp on it.
Conspiracies, distrust, racial double standards past and present, topped by the uncertainty over a workable COVID-19 vaccination creates the perfect storm of doubt and outrage over the merits of vaccines. In truth, Blacks are hardly unique in their skepticism about vaccines, any vaccines. Pew Research Surveys found that a significant number of Americans are deeply skeptical of the safety and risk of COVID vaccinations as well as other vaccines.
The paradox in all of this is that almost from the moment the coronavirus pandemic hit, Blacks screamed the loudest that they feared that they would be the hardest hit by the pandemic. The disproportionate death rate of Blacks from COVID has certainly borne out this fear.
Biden, and federal health officials, have repeatedly promised that there will be more vaccines. There will continue to be a media and educational push to get as many as possible vaccinated as quickly as possible. As the safety of the vaccine is confirmed, this will do much to break down the fear and mistrust of a COVID vaccine, at least among many wary Blacks. I look forward to that day, hopefully, a very soon arriving day. This can only mean one thing: I’ll see more Blacks in that vaccination line. That means fewer lives in the South L.A.s of America at risk.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His latest book is What’s Right and Wrong with the Electoral College (Amazon) He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network. His political affairs commentaries can be found weekly on thehutchinsonreport.net