Vaccine Supply Higher than Demand due to Vaccination Hesitancy

U.S. Vaccination Goal for Ending Pandemic is at Risk

By Thomas Holt Russell

After a steady climb in vaccinations earlier this year, the nation has experienced a slowdown in the rate of daily shots since the middle of April. Demand no longer outpaces vaccine availability, due to the hesitancy of some groups and individuals, especially the Black community, to getting vaccinated.

Half of American adults have received at least one vaccination shot, according to U.S. government statistics. Those who were vaccinated had both the desire and the most access to vaccines.

Now that vaccines are widely accessible, public health officials and partners are reaching out to those who are reluctant to receive a vaccination. Strategies to convince those people to get vaccinated are as varied as their reasons for not getting vaccinated.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor, 13% of the U.S. population definitely does not plan to get vaccinated. Another 17% is concerned that the vaccine is too new and may have long-term effects, and 8% do not believe the vaccines are effective and do not know what is in them. Other reasons for not getting vaccinated include concerns about side effects, not liking vaccinations in any situations, and lack of concern about contracting COVID-19.

More than a half million Americans have died of COVID. The vaccination is free, no insurance is needed, and vaccines are plentiful presently. The vaccinations have already proven to be effective among the large majority of the 263 million vaccinated people. Though vaccination seems like an easy decision or an easy sell for the healthcare community, the percentage of people not yet willing to be vaccinated has turned into a crisis within a crisis.

Blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans are four times more likely to be hospitalized from COVID and three times as likely to die from the virus. Blacks have the lowest rates for vaccinations of any group. According to the CDC, among those receiving at least one dose of the vaccination, only 5.4% are Black people while 60% are white people. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll, 35% of Blacks say they do not plan to get the vaccine.

Black Americans have a long and turbulent history when it comes to their interactions with the medical community, including the tragic history of the Tuskegee Experiment, other medical experiments and involuntary sterilization. One specific case was Henrietta Lack, whose cancer cells were used for research without her permission or compensation for her family. Gynecologist J. Marion Sims experimented on Black women, cutting them open without any anesthesia. He is renowned for his work, even though he tortured Black women in the name of science to benefit white women.

The country is divided along political and social lines, and building trust in a system that many see as corrupt will be a challenging undertaking. Black people, in particular, can base their fear and distrust on factual stories, often passed down through generations. For these and many reasons, skepticism is embedded in Black culture and will not be easy to change for the sake of the current public health situation.

To convince people of color that vaccinations are safe, effective and necessary, many organizations and government agencies have ramped up information campaigns. The hope is that good propaganda will win over bad propaganda and misinformation.

Though some people are skittish due to the quick development of the vaccines, each of the vaccine trials conducted by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, in fact, included more than 40,000 participants. The participants included Black, Native American and Latinx people, and all vaccines were had very small margins of serious side effects and were nearly 100% effective.

One reason for the swiftness in developing vaccines was the international cooperation. Governments worldwide made vaccine development a priority, and they opened their wallets to support development and testing. This influx of money saved a lot of time.

Another reason for swift vaccine development was that doctors did not start from scratch; they developed the vaccination based on decades of existing knowledge. All manufacturers had to follow stringent Federal Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines to get the emergency use authorization in the U.S., and full FDA approval is expected this summer.

Each person who is reluctant to receive a COVID-19 vaccination can find scientifically based information about the necessity, effectiveness and safety of the vaccinations from institutions without political agendas. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention collects data from independent sources. The Colorado Dept of Health & Environment and the Colorado State Emergency Operations Center has well-researched information on how and where to get a vaccination.

However, skeptics are often untrusting of these government entities, so vaccine advocates who are trusted messengers are answering the call to spread pro-vaccination information. Churches and Black organizations as well as community leaders, sports stars and celebrities are taking the lead.

Black doctors are also a valuable source of information on why getting vaccinated is a good idea. Dr. Stephen B. Thomas, the African American director of the Maryland Center for Health and Public Policy, has said that COVID-19 has disproportionately affected Black people and other minorities due to historic disparities in healthcare.

“COVID-19 is simply magnifying problems that have already existed,” Dr. Thomas explained. “In minority communities, the trusted messenger may not be an M.D. or a professor like me. It may be a local barber or a beautician, or the grocery store owner – people they trust in the neighborhood who have credibility.”