Survey shows many don’t trust the COVID-19 vaccine, especially Black Americans

A new survey from Pew Research Center shows Black Americans — among the hardest hit by the pandemic — are also the least likely to take a COVID-19 vaccine.

The Food and Drug Administration approved Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine on Friday night, but 39% of Americans (out of 12,648 surveyed) said they would either definitely not or probably not get the vaccine.

“No, I wouldn’t take it,” said Johnathan Orr, who was driving through Tacoma on Friday. “Just so many things going on these days — you really can’t trust other people,” he said.

“I will probably wait for a while to see what the repercussions are, if any,” said Jenna Anderson, who lives in Tacoma.

The Pew Research survey showed confidence in a vaccine is growing, but Black Americans stand out. When asked, “Would you take a COVID vaccine if it were available today?” 42% would do so. That’s compared to 63% of Hispanics, 61% of whites and 83% of English-speaking Asians.

“There is a lot of mistrust, unfortunately, due to the history we have seen,” said Cenetra Pickens, a registered nurse from Tacoma and part of union SEIU 1199NW. “As a health care provider and as a Black woman, it is very concerning,” she said.

The United States has a long history of medical experimentation on African Americans.

One of the most notable is the Tuskegee syphilis experiments that lasted 40 years, where treatment from syphilis was withheld for Black men so that doctors could study how the disease advanced.

Public health and health care providers, such as Pickens, are working to undo the harm.

Pickens works with a nonprofit, the Planned Positive Learning Assistance Network, to hold Zoom meetings for the Black community to discuss and answer questions about COVID-19 vaccines in a safe space.  (The next meeting will be held Saturday, Dec. 12, from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. PST. Click here for the Zoom link.)

“We all want to be protected, but we just need to be informed and heard,” Pickens said. “People don’t want to be guinea pigs. They don’t want to be tested on.”

She said the effort to rebuild trust will need to happen over time and many conversations because the history of racism in medicine continues until today.

“Black women, they’re more likely to die when seeking maternal care. So we see this continuously happening, but it’s not being addressed. So there is a lot of mistrust, unfortunately,” Pickens said.

Though Black Americans are least likely to take a COVID-19 vaccine, they’re among the hardest hit. Compared to whites, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated Blacks and Latinx who get the virus are 2.8 times more likely to die and about four times as likely to be hospitalized.

That disproportional impact is one that Odan Penilton, a Tacoma resident, knows too well. He’s lost five members of his family to COVID-19.

“Four of them were cousins, and then my aunt. All on my mom’s side. It’s been real tough. Actually, it’s been devastating,” Penilton said.

He has no hesitation in taking a vaccine and hopes others will too.

“Absolutely,” Penilton said. “I want to do whatever we can do to get out of this mess we’re in,” he said.