Addressing COVID-19 vaccine concerns in Black communities

Last updated: Apr 23, 2021
We answer common questions those in Black communities may have.

Highlights

  • COVID-19 is a serious threat that has deeply impacted Black communities.
  • The vaccines have been tested with people of African descent and reviewed by experts.
  • All the vaccines are equally safe and effective.
  • The vaccines keep people from getting sick and dying.
  • Getting vaccinated protects the whole community.
  • The vaccine is available to everyone over 16, though people in high-risk categories should get vaccinated first.
  • The vaccines are free for everyone – regardless of immigration status or insurance.
  • Appointments can be scheduled online or by phone.

COVID-19 vaccines are now available to most Californians. For some, this might bring a sense of relief. For others, there still may be concerns about getting vaccinated. Some people from certain racial and ethnic groups may hesitate to seek care. This may be due to distrust of government and healthcare systems that have been responsible for inequities in treatment.

Black Americans have had higher rates of infection, hospitalizations, and death during the pandemic. 78% of Black Americans say they know someone personally who died or was hospitalized because of COVID-19.

Because of these concerns, many doctors, scientists, and health experts have created resources to help address questions. Here are a few of these experts working towards equity within Black communities. Their work helps bring concerns Black Americans may have to the state and national level.

  • California’s Surgeon General, Nadine Burke Harris, chairs the Community Vaccine Advisory Committee. She has brought racial equity to the forefront of the COVID-19 vaccine conversation.
  • Oliver Brooks is the Chief Medical Officer at Watts Healthcare. He co-chairs the COVID-19 Vaccine Drafting Guidelines Workgroup. This group advises the California Department of Public Health’s vaccine distribution plan. The plan focuses on making sure those most at risk have access to the vaccine first.
  • Yolanda Richardson, Gov. Newson’s appointee for Secretary of the Government Operations Agency, is leading California’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Her focus is on distribution throughout the state.
  • Kizzmekia Corbett worked directly with Dr. Fauci at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. She helped develop the technology used by some of the COVID-19 vaccines.

In addition to listening to these experts, it may be helpful to get more information from a family doctor, community health workers, or a community-based organization, such as the California Black Health Network.

Are the vaccines safe for everyone?

Some people may wonder if the vaccines are safe for everyone.

The National Medical Association promotes the collective interests of physicians and patients of African descent. It set up a task force chaired by Dr. Leon McDougle, MD, MPH. The task force reviewed the vaccine clinical trial data that specifically impacts Black communities. It found that enough Black participants were enrolled to feel confident that the trials’ results – which showed that the vaccines were safe and effective – would also apply to them.

  • Moderna – 10.2% identified as Black or African American
  • Pfizer-BioNTech – 9.1% identified as Black or African American
  • Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) – 19.4% identified as Black or African American

The same task force also looked at the trial results for people with certain chronic conditions. For example, the task force found that people with controlled autoimmune diseases – such as lupus – were not at more risk if they got the vaccine. Data is still pending on those with sickle cell disease and HIV.

Learn more about the vaccines' safety and effectiveness.

Are all the vaccines equal? Is one better than the other?

All the vaccines are very effective in preventing COVID-19. They also protect against severe illness, hospitalization, and death. In the trials, all three vaccines resulted in zero deaths or hospitalizations.

These numbers are quite high for vaccines. To give some perspective, flu shots are typically only 40 to 60% effective.

For more details, read our vaccine FAQs.

What are the benefits of getting vaccinated?

The vaccines are key for helping to end the pandemic. They offer protection from a life-threatening virus. They can keep people from getting sick. Or if someone does catch the virus, they can reduce the severity of symptoms and prevent hospitalization and death. They also protect against the potential long-term health effects of the virus.

Getting vaccinated might also help reduce the risk of and spread of new COVID-19 variants. These are new strains of the virus. Much is still unknown about the variants. But vaccinating is one powerful tool to help protect against the COVID-19 variants.

Is it possible to wait a little longer before getting vaccinated?

The CDC says fully vaccinated people can now visit other fully vaccinated people indoors with no masks or social distancing. So the sooner everyone gets the vaccine, the sooner everyone can see friends and family safely. With each day that passes without getting vaccinated, there is more risk of catching COVID-19. Also, it will take longer to reach herd immunity.

Some people may think those who are vaccinated can’t spread the virus. This may not be true. Scientists still don’t yet know how well the vaccine stops people from spreading the virus. That means unvaccinated people could still be at risk. The virus spreads even when people don’t have symptoms.

Who should get vaccinated as soon as possible?

The vaccines are available to everyone 16 and older. But getting vaccinated is very important for those in the high-risk categories below. People in these groups have a higher risk of hospitalization or death.

For specific conditions or other concerns, a family doctor, pharmacist, or community health center may have more information.

Remember: the vaccine is free for everyone – regardless of immigration status or insurance.

What’s the easiest way to get a COVID-19 vaccine?

The easiest way to stay up to date in California is to sign up on the My Turn website. Vaccine appointments can be made through the site. Or, an alert will be sent when the vaccine becomes available. If needed, it may be helpful to ask a family member or friend to help set up an appointment on the My Turn site. Initial supplies are limited. So there might be fewer appointments available at this time. There will be more available in the coming months.

Those who don’t have access to a smart phone, the internet, or email can call the California COVID-19 hotline at (833) 422-4255. The hotline is available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

A family doctor or healthcare provider can also help. They might be providing the vaccine. They might also know when the vaccine is available in certain areas.

Still more questions?

Check out more articles at the resources below:

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