Black residents still less likely to get vaccine

Distrust of government, doctors playing a role.

Coronavirus vaccination rates for the Dayton area Black population still lag behind and their COVID-19 hospitalizations also have dropped at a slower rate than white residents, two trends that concern local health officials.

Those trends unfortunately aren’t a surprise, said Fabrice Juin, coordinator for the Montgomery County Office of Minority Health.

“Responses received from our Black community members within our vaccine attitudes survey expressed safety concerns, misinformation and just historical injustices still representing major influences that are impeding vaccine acceptance,” he said. “Even after progress is made in addressing barriers to access, you still have vaccine hesitancy and medical distrust, which continues to persist as major hurdles.”

What the numbers are

About 45% of white residents in Ohio have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while about 30% of Black Ohioans have gotten the shot, according to the Ohio Department of Health. Rates in our local counties are similar to the state average.

Meanwhile, hospitalizations from the virus have not fallen for Black residents at the same rate as white residents. Out of 295 hospitalizations in Montgomery County from coronavirus in the past two months, Black residents accounted for 106 of those, or about 36%, while they only account for about 23% of the county population.

Hospitals across the state are reporting that the majority of coronavirus patients in hospitals are unvaccinated.

Health leaders say that while deaths from coronavirus have decreased and loosening restrictions may make it seem like the pandemic is over, the virus remains a serious threat. In 2021, 335 Montgomery County residents have died from complications of COVID-19, according to ODH.

Dr. Mamle Anim, chief medical officer for Five Rivers Health Centers, pointed out that many of the loosening rules from health authorities apply to vaccinated people only.

“I’d hate to see the Black community be devastated by COVID because we were reluctant to look at the science,” said Donald Domineck, a leader of the Dayton New Black Panthers.



Why many Black residents don’t trust the vaccine

Public Health-Dayton & Montgomery County approached Domineck and other organizers of a Juneteenth celebration in Dayton about setting up a vaccination clinic at the event. But there was community push-back against including government-issued vaccines at the event marking the emancipation of African American slaves, so the organizers decided not to allow the clinic, Domineck said.

Dr. Gary LeRoy, associate dean at the Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine, told the Dayton Daily News in December that America’s long history of unethical medical experimentation on minorities could cause Black Americans to be wary of the shot. That has proven true for some area residents.

Danielle Robinson, a 53-year-old African American resident of Trotwood, doesn’t plan on getting vaccinated.

“They’re afraid because of what happened to their Black men in that syphilis study,” Robinson said.

She is referring to the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment conducted between 1932 and 1972 by the United States Public Health Service. In that, the American government caused the deaths of more than 100 Black male participants by preventing them from receiving penicillin, the standard treatment for syphilis by 1947.

Robinson’s doctor has encouraged her to get the vaccine but she said “anybody will say anything for money.”

Jameela Value, a 61-year-old African American resident of Dayton, said she’s thinking about getting vaccinated “more and more” lately.

“I’m just hesitant,” she said. “I still want to know how come people still get it after they’ve been vaccinated. Just long term side effects. I don’t think anybody really has the answer to that yet.”

Value said she talks to everybody about the vaccine, including her doctor whom she doesn’t totally trust.

“She’s a doctor,” she said. “They practice on us.”

According to a study released this week by the African American Research Collaborative, almost one-third of unvaccinated Black Americans who expressed some hesitancy to get the vaccine say the discrimination their communities have faced within the health care system makes it hard to trust that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective.

Top reasons for hesitancy among unvaccinated Black and non-Black respondents included believing that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is dangerous and can cause blood clots and that the vaccine can give you COVID and make you sick.

Domineck said he sees a lot of misinformation about the vaccine being spread on social media. Anim said she believes a lot of the misinformation targets people of color by equating the vaccine with historic injustices. And she is suspicious of the nefarious motivations behind anybody discouraging people of color from getting a life-saving vaccine.

Experts: trust the science

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration would not have given emergency authorization to these vaccines if they were not safe and effective, said Anim.

“The process for getting approval was very rigorous,” she said. “I really believe that if there was something inherently dangerous about this, it would not have been approved. And we have a track record now. Millions around the world have taken the vaccine, and the majority by far are better for it. And everybody is getting it. It’s not like there is a special pot of vaccines for African Americans and another pot for everybody else. There is no plot.”

Anim said the brief pause in administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should give people confidence that the FDA is invested in making sure the vaccines are safe.

In April, the Food and Drug Administration paused distribution of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine because six women, out of nearly 7 million shot recipients in the U.S., developed rare blood clots after getting the vaccine, and one of them died. The FDA ended the pause 10 days later after a thorough review.

When Public Health-Dayton & Montgomery County gives presentations on the vaccine to the community, Juin said they try to put the fears, like about blood clots, into perspective. The CDC has linked fewer than 30 cases of blood clots, mostly in middle-aged women, to the vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson, or less than 0.0004% of recipients.

What are leaders already doing

Public Health-Dayton & Montgomery County, as well as the Dayton area’s largest hospital networks, have held vaccine clinics and information sessions in churches and other locations that, “Black community members frequent and can more easily access, where they feel safe and more comfortable getting vaccinated,” Juin said.

“We’re really trying to get innovative by collaborating with local partners who are plugged into the Black county residents that we have still yet to reach,” he said. “The truth is this is absolutely a marathon, as opposed to a race. We don’t anticipate that Black vaccination rates will eclipse their white counterparts anytime soon.”

Credit: Submitted

Credit: Submitted

What can be done to get more shots into arms

On top of vaccine hesitancy, Black residents face socio-economic disadvantages. Minorities are more likely to work in jobs that do not offer paid time off. Public Health-Dayton & Montgomery County encourages all employers to give workers time off to get the vaccine.

Domineck said education is key and more could be done to reach out to community members directly, especially through grassroots organizations instead of more established politicians that Black residents might not trust.

Anim said health leaders need to research the misinformation that’s out there and directly combat it with facts.

“The people providing misinformation are working harder than those of us providing the truth,” she said. “We need direct messaging to combat the lies and we need to start looking at more than a one-size-fits-all model.”

People might also be more likely to get the jab if they could get it at their doctor’s office. The AARC poll found that more than half of unvaccinated Americans would prefer to get a COVID-19 vaccination at their doctor’s office. Unvaccinated respondents preferred this location between three to five times over retail pharmacies, community health centers, government clinics, drive-up clinics and large public vaccination sites — where Ohio is currently administering the lion’s share of its vaccine doses.

While more people are slowly choosing to get the vaccine, Domineck said, “people are dying so I think there hast to be a sense of urgency.”

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