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Support for COVID-19 vaccination is rising among Black and Hispanic people in the U.S. NPR's Jon Hamilton reports that information campaigns and first-hand experience appear to be wiping away early doubts about vaccine safety.
JON HAMILTON, BYLINE: When COVID-19 vaccines started arriving in Memphis late last year, some Black residents were concerned. Do the vaccines cause infertility? Do they alter a person's DNA? They don't, and community leaders worked hard to counter these and other vaccine myths. Even so, Dr. Pat Flynn was worried that vaccination sites might be dominated by white people in a town where most residents are Black.
PATRICIA FLYNN: I was surprised that it was an extremely mixed population representative of our community who was coming through to get vaccines.
HAMILTON: The Memphis experience reflects a national shift in what's often called vaccine hesitancy. In late 2020, national surveys found that Black and Hispanic respondents were less likely than white respondents to say they planned to get a vaccine. Surveys from the past month, though, suggest that gap has diminished or disappeared.
Flynn, an infectious disease specialist at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, says there's been a clear change among health care workers at her own institution.
FLYNN: We kind of looked at it and thought, surely everybody will want to get a vaccine. But initially, our uptake was not as high as we thought it would be.
HAMILTON: Since then, Flynn says, vaccination rates at the hospital have been rising.
FLYNN: There were some people that were kind of delaying to see what happened when everybody else got a vaccine. And now, later in the campaign, they may be stepping forward to roll up their sleeves and get a vaccine.
HAMILTON: Latinx communities appear to be embracing not only COVID-19 vaccines, but seasonal flu shots. Dolores Albarracin is a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She says data from the 2019 flu season found a vaccination rate of 38% among Hispanic Americans, compared with 53% among white Americans.
DOLORES ALBARRACIN: However, the latest data on getting the flu shot are a little bit different because Hispanics are actually vaccinating on the higher rates than other whites.
HAMILTON: With the COVID-19 vaccine, there's still a small gap between Hispanic and white Americans, but Albarracin says that's partly because Hispanic Americans as a group are younger than white Americans. And younger people are generally less interested in getting a COVID-19 vaccine.
ALBARRACIN: Once you take that into account, the gap is much less.
HAMILTON: Albarracin says it might disappear entirely if more vaccine information was in Spanish and employers made it easier for Hispanic workers to take time off to get a vaccine. Dr. Hansel Tookes of the University of Miami says many Black residents there have been held back by a digital divide. For example, when COVID-19 testing first became available, people had to sign up online, creating a barrier for those without Internet access.
HANSEL TOOKES: That was multiplied when we moved to using telehealth. So people who didn't have access to broadband, which does not even exist in many of our historically Black communities in Miami, they were not able to access their physicians for a year.
HAMILTON: And Tookes says physicians are critical when it comes to vaccine advice.
TOOKES: We identified that this was going to be a problem very early in our public hospital system here in Miami. And part of that is why I received my COVID vaccine on TV.
HAMILTON: Tookes, who is Black, also appeared in a video explaining how the COVID-19 vaccination could benefit minority communities. And when he got his second vaccine dose, he posted a picture of the event on his Twitter feed.
TOOKES: What I always like to tell my patients is, it's not about the fact that my arm hurt after the vaccine. It's the fact that I felt hopeful for the first time in a year when that shot went into my arm.
HAMILTON: Tookes says he wants to make sure everyone else feels that way, too. Jon Hamilton, NPR News.
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