COVID-19 has unjustly impacted communities of color, especially African Americans and Hispanics – these communities see disproportionate infection and death rates from the coronavirus than other racial groups. Further, small businesses run by individuals of color have seen greater losses than those run by white Americans. To reduce the long-term burden of the virus upon racial minorities, it is vital that opportunities for vaccination are equitable and accessible for all, regardless of one’s location or income level.
However, it is understandable why some people of color may be skeptical about trusting the COVID-19 vaccine. There is a troublesome history of non-consensual medical practices towards patients of color. For instance, biological property has been stolen and exploited without credit or compensation, as was the case with Henrietta Lacks’s cancer cells. As well, during the Tuskegee Study of 1932, black males were injected with syphilis without their consent and were not given any available treatment. This study went on for 40 years and lead to 157 preventable deaths. Unfortunately, racism is still pervasive both explicitly and implicitly within society, and the medical field is not immune to this. Further, undocumented immigrants may avoid accessing health care services in fear of their status being discovered or reported, as well as these locations being targeted by immigration services. As well, both African Americans and Hispanics have been routinely underrepresented in clinical trials for many different treatments and conditions
We are not highlighting these upsetting events to further drive mistrust between patients of color and the medical community. We are bringing them to light to bring awareness to these serious systemic issues and to instead build trust by contrasting these experiences to the truth about receiving the COVID-19 vaccine:
→ The vaccine has been approved for use among most Americans
o Currently, the only groups that are cautioned against receiving the vaccine are pregnant women and those who have allergies to any of its ingredients
→ The vaccine will NOT infect you with the coronavirus
o The currently approved vaccines do not include a deactivated or weakened version of COVID-19
o The vaccine contains mRNA, a molecule naturally produced within your body
i. It prompts our cells to create a protein that our immune system will learn how to identify and target, subsequently developing an immune response to kill the virus before it infects us and symptoms develop
ii. It DOES NOT influence or change one’s DNA or genetic makeup
iii. Once mRNA has done its job, it is rapidly disposed of in the body
→ African American and Hispanic populations are receiving the COVID-19 vaccine at a slower rate than other racial groups in America
o However, these groups are dying of COVID-19 at disproportionate rates
o There is no indication of any differences in the type of vaccine being distributed between different racial groups – in fact, race and ethnicity of vaccinated individuals is only reported about half of the time
→ Undocumented immigrants have the right to receive the COVID-19 vaccine
of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection has been specifically instructed to not carry out enforcement operations at or near vaccination sites or health care facilities
→ COVID-19 vaccine developers actively worked to include more racial and ethnic minorities in their clinical trials
o The efficacy results of the vaccine for these groups were very similar between the different developers
i. This means there were no significant differences in how well the different vaccines work to prevent COVID-19 infection among racial groups
Hopefully, this information will provide some reassurance for people of color who are debating whether to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. It is important that everyone plays their part in keeping our communities safe. America needs as many people to get the COVID-19 vaccine as possible in order to slow and eventually stop the devastating effects of the virus upon the lives of citizens. Higher vaccination rates not only benefit our physical health but also will improve mental health and economic activity. With fewer social distancing guidelines, we will be able to safely access our social support systems and help out businesses that have seen significantly reduced revenue within the past year. The more people who receive the vaccine, the better off Americans will be in the long run.
- Artiga, S., Hill, L., Michaud, J., & Kates, J. (2021, January 26). Racial Diversity within COVID-19 Vaccine Clinical Trials: Key Questions and Answers. KFF. https://www.kff.org/racial-equity-and-health-policy/issue-brief/racial-diversity-within-covid-19-vaccine-clinical-trials-key-questions-and-answers/.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, March 4). Understanding mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/different-vaccines/mrna.html.
- Christensen, J. (2020, December 17). Who should, and should not, get the Covid-19 vaccine. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2020/12/16/health/who-should-and-shouldnt-get-covid-19-vaccine/index.html.
- Clark, L. T., Watkins, L., Piña, I. L., Elmer, M., Akinboboye, O., Gorham, M., … Regnante, J. M. (2019). Increasing Diversity in Clinical Trials: Overcoming Critical Barriers. Current Problems in Cardiology, 44(5), 148–172. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpcardiol.2018.11.002
- DHS Statement on Equal Access to COVID-19 Vaccines and Vaccine Distribution Sites. Department of Homeland Security. (2021, February 1). https://www.dhs.gov/news/2021/02/01/dhs-statement-equal-access-covid-19-vaccines-and-vaccine-distribution-sites.
- Fairlie, R. (2020). The Impact of Covid-19 on Small Business Owners: Evidence of Early-Stage Losses from the April 2020 Current Population Survey. https://doi.org/10.3386/w27309
- Nature Publishing Group. (2020, September 1). Henrietta Lacks: science must right a historical wrong. Nature News. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-02494-z.
- Ndugga, N., Pham, O., Hill, L., & Artiga, S. (2021, March 17). Latest Data on COVID-19 Vaccinations Race/Ethnicity. KFF. https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/latest-data-on-covid-19-vaccinations-race-ethnicity/.
- Waxman, O. B. (2017, July 25). Tuskegee Syphilis Study: How Americans Learned What Happened. Time. https://time.com/4867267/tuskegee-syphilis-study/.