The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has affected all of us in some way or form, and most likely in a negative way. As miraculously effective as the vaccine development and rollout has been, gaps are still negatively affecting everyone’s health.
Although we are one people, some have slipped deeper into this gap than others due to their race, and the cause of this gap is vaccine mistrust and hesitancy.
Sadly, addressing the issue of vaccine hesitancy is not on our minds, but only by directly addressing this issue will this gap be filled, bettering everyone’s overall health, and eventually ending this coronavirus pandemic, which has raged on for long enough.
We would rather be occupied by issues that aren’t focused on bettering the health of our community, such as fighting the opening of a homeless shelter, and focusing on whether someone’s scrotum was swollen. I’m sure many of you heard how rapper Nicki Minaj made headlines worldwide for tweets of COVID-19 misinformation, tweeting she knew someone who suffered from the unfortunate side effect of “swollen testicles,” and became impotent because of the vaccine.
This also led to the collapse of his imminent marriage — poor guy, right?
Upon further investigation and unnecessary resource use by the Trinidad and Tobago health ministry, it was determined this case of, well, inflammation, was not a side effect, and was unrelated. This story became headlines because, as a celebrity, Minaj has a global platform of followers, and her voice is influential to many people’s decisions.
Additionally, due to her status as a celebrity, people believed her misinformation. Minaj faced much criticism in the media for her baseless claim, was the topic of many jokes, and the Trinidadian government even offered to provide education on the vaccine’s safety.
Although the vaccine’s effects on marriage have yet to be fully determined and more research is needed on the matter, why is addressing the root cause of this hesitancy not being discussed?
Unfortunately, I believe it’s because it’s something many people don’t want to hear.
Vaccine hesitancy in communities of color is caused by structural racism, and the reduced vaccination rates in these communities affect everyone’s health. Historically, racist policies such as “redlining” have left communities of color out of public investment. As a result of this structured racism, the quality of health care in communities of color remains subpar compared to other communities that have had more investments in health.
In addition, as seen by data from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, communities of color continue to be disproportionately affected, and the available health care services in these communities are inundated by unprecedented demand.
The disproportionate difference in health care quality, accessibility, and ultimately outcomes for neighborhoods because of race, embody residential segregation. This residential segregation is demonstrated by indicators such as the lowered vaccination rates resulting from the elevated levels of vaccine hesitancy.
Historically, the centuries of racist treatment for communities of color have led to distrust and reduced confidence in medical care. The infamous Tuskegee syphilis study is one example of how communities of color were mistreated and unable to trust an institution founded on bettering health, and this translates to present-day levels of vaccine hesitancy.
Unfortunately, there is no simple way to frame this issue due to the many factors that affect trust in a vaccine. Additionally, it is difficult to explain any aspect of racism in a receptive way and wholly resonate with everyone in our present society.
Studies show that any issue grounded in racism will cause discomfort, but there are benefits to this emotional response in addressing the issue. Talking about the issue, however, is a pretty good start, and since this ultimately affects everyone’s health, addressing it should be front and center of our discussion.
Communities of color require more anti-racist efforts of reducing mistrust in the vaccination, and interventions utilizing the local community’s assets can directly reduce the rates of vaccine hesitancy. An asset-based approach is valuable because a dependency on external factors will not be allowed to develop. Tt is an approach that focuses on the positive health outcomes being sustained in the community by the community.
Undoing the mistrust in the community will be essential to reducing vaccine hesitancy, and community-based initiatives utilizing local community members and organizations have the potential to increase access and trustworthiness in health care services.
Working to improve trust and confidence in medical care to reduce vaccine hesitancy through asset-based community interventions — utilizing the community’s health services and assets — will foster an environment promoting sustainable community development past the point of intervention, and improved rates of vaccination in the communities which need it most.
I believe addressing the core issues of vaccine hesitancy in our communities should gain more attention to begin working at reducing these rates and bettering the health of everyone in our community.
It takes small steps, and although the conversation may be a difficult one, it is a necessary one for us to all get through this pandemic.
The author is a master’s degree student at CUNY School of Public Health