Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Many Hispanic And Black People Say They Are Skeptical About COVID-19 Vaccine


Public health experts are worried that some of the people who are skeptical of a coronavirus vaccine are those who need it the most. That includes Latinos and African Americans, who make up a disproportionate number of people hospitalized or killed by COVID-19. NPR's Adrian Florido reports on some of the efforts to fight vaccine skepticism within those communities.


ADRIAN FLORIDO: Marie Reyes (ph) does not intend to get vaccinated, at least not right away.

MARIE REYES: I think if I get the vaccine that I'm going to get whatever, like, COVID has and I'm going to die. So I definitely will be one of the people that won't take it, you know, in the beginning.

FLORIDO: Reyes says she is not generally a vaccine skeptic.

REYES: But this one, since it's new, I am not comfortable of getting it.

FLORIDO: Surveys show that kind of skepticism about the vaccine is widespread. Nearly 40% of Latinos told Pew researchers they would probably or definitely not get the vaccine. More than half of Black respondents said the same. White people have also expressed hesitancy. But the reluctance among African Americans and Latinos is especially worrying because their rates of infection are so much higher.

KEITH NORRIS: It's a major concern.

FLORIDO: Dr. Keith Norris is among an army of people ramping up efforts to ensure Latinos, African Americans and other people of color trust the vaccine. He's hearing a wide range of concerns, many stemming from a long history of racism in medical research.

NORRIS: Concern about being a guinea pig, concerns about pharma and the federal government - and then there's lots of social media messaging downplaying the importance of coronavirus.

FLORIDO: Norris works for UCLA and is leading a California effort funded by the National Institutes of Health to build vaccine trust. The strategy is to get clear, concise information to Black and brown communities with help from so-called trusted messengers, people with existing relationships in communities with high COVID risk - people like Tony Wafford, a longtime Los Angeles-based HIV educator. In May, he lost five close family members to COVID. He's talked about that a lot as he's encouraged Black friends and neighbors to volunteer for vaccine trials and now to take the vaccine.

TONY WAFFORD: I mean, it's hard to say, get in this clinical trial and these white people going to help you, when these the same white people that have been kicking your ass all week. You know what I mean?

FLORIDO: He says he acknowledges people's skepticism and meets them where they are.

WAFFORD: I tell people all the time. I say, what are you on? They say, well, I'm on high blood pressure medicine. I'm taking some for my cholesterol. I say, you know, before you were taking that pill, it was in a clinical trial. You know it just didn't pop up out of thin air. Then they go, really? Yeah.

FLORIDO: UCLA's Keith Norris says this outreach will take many forms - in person, on the airwaves and in virtual town halls. He says researchers will track what messages about the vaccine people respond to to see...

NORRIS: If there are certain areas that tend to have a greater impact, moving people from being reticent to being willing...

FLORIDO: Ana Melgoza is with San Ysidro Health, a San Diego clinic that serves a large Mexican and Mexican American population, where fears about vaccine safety are compounded by language issues and concerns about immigration status. The clinic has trained community outreach workers to answer questions about the vaccine.

ANA MELGOZA: The reason why this is working is because people are not relying on a government entity for this information. Especially due to the last four years, people would rather hear from someone that they already have a relationship with.

FLORIDO: She expects the vaccine to gain acceptance over time. But she also says many of the clinic's patients are already eager for the vaccine because they've spent months risking themselves in essential jobs and have lost friends and family.

MELGOZA: They don't want to see anyone else, any other loved one have to go through that.

FLORIDO: For these people, the vaccine...

MELGOZA: Means being able to continue to provide for their families, for their loved ones and to be there for them in the long run.

FLORIDO: She says that's the message she intends to keep driving home.

Adrian Florido, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Adrian Florido
Adrian Florido is a national correspondent for NPR covering race and identity in America.
KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.