Hard Sell

Most anti-vaxxers still not convinced of facts

By T. Holt Russell

As COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths are rising, health and social organizations across the country are working to improve the vaccination rates of Black and Hispanic people, who historically experienced a low rate of vaccinations rates for several reasons.

Most of the people contracting COVID-19 are unvaccinated. A New York Times analysis of 40 states and Washington, D.C. stated that breakthrough infections (those infections that the fully vaccinated catch) are only a tiny fraction of one percent of the total of all infections. Even though efficacy in clinical trials and the effectiveness in the real world have undeniable evidence of the vaccination’s efficiency, the Black and Hispanic communities are not yet on board with the idea of taking a vaccine.

Data on the efficiency of vaccinations is everywhere and easy to access. Across the globe, studies from places such as Israel have backed Pfizer’s claim of up to 92% effectiveness at preventing infection and 87% effectiveness in preventing hospitalizations due to COVID-19. A study published by the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine supports the claim of high effectiveness rates as reported worldwide. However, none of this information is enough to convince a large number of people who are totally against taking the vaccine or are on the fence about making a decision.

Dr. Oswaldo Grenardo is a family medicine specialist from Aurora, Colorado. In my conversation with him, Grenardo made this point when I asked him how to convince the population to trust the vaccine.  

“We need to make sure that people are getting accurate information from sources that can be trusted and that they should be trusting, so whether or not those are from medical sources, Black providers, Black organizations, we need to make sure that the data and information that is given to them is as accurate as can be. There is a lot of obvious misinformation going on. There is any number of different of fallacies or mistruths or incorrect data that are being used that affect a person’s ability to make a good sound judgment.”

A few weekends ago, I attended a Community Conversation about COVID-19 and the Vaccines. The Denver Urban Spectrum sponsored the event and featured a panel of prominent community and nationally known African American doctors: Dr. Johnny E. Johnson, obstetrics and gynecology physician; Dr. Terri Richardson, internist and vice-chair of the Colorado Black Health Collaborative; and Dr. Lane Rolling, a nationally known infectious disease specialist and director of the Tropical Pathology and Infectious Disease Association. Even this group sometimes had slight disagreements, and on the whole, the message on vaccinations was sometimes ambiguous at best. As one of the participants pointed out, “This is one of the reasons we don’t have confidence. You guys can’t even agree on this stuff.”

A quick survey of the people attending the COVID-19 conversation event indicated that approximately 50% of them were vaccinated. Each doctor spoke about the benefits of vaccinations, and in fairness, acknowledged there is a problem convincing African Americans that the vaccination is safe. The reasons for not trusting the vaccinations covered a wide range of causes of confusion and mistrust. Some of the reasons for not getting a vaccination included a history of medical experimenting on Black people, the vaccine is safe for white people but not Black people, a hoax perpetrated by the drug companies to line their pockets with cash, God’s punishment on his people, the FDA has not authorized it yet, and even the biblical mark of the beast was mentioned.

The facts about Black people participating in trials, the real-life success with fully vaccinated Black people and the vaccines having been made in part by Black scientist made little to no difference to the people in the room, or apparently to Black people in general across the nation.

Sometimes it is the messenger. One of the panel members suggested that former President Obama would have been the person who would have been able to convince the Black population to get the vaccine. Still, a few of the anti-vaxxers groaned at that suggestion and said even Obama would not change their mind.

What should we do to get Black and Hispanic populations vaccinated? Lately, there have been a lot of confessions made by anti-vaxxers from their hospital beds. They admit to making a mistake by not getting the vaccination earlier. These attempts are honest and sincere but just like the lack of effectiveness of those violent car crash videos in stopping drunk driving, those sickbed confessions of people who used to think and sound like the anti-vaxxers are not even moving people to change.

In the end, the difference between the death rate of the vaccinated and unvaccinated will determine who is right, even if not everyone believes the numbers. However, if our tolerance and indifference for the number of deaths caused by COVID -19 continue to grow, the entire nation will be in for a very bumpy ride.