February 16, 2021
Michelle A. Williams
ScD Dean of the Faculty Angelopoulos Professor in Public Health and International Development, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Former Governor, Massachusetts, Co-Chair, COVID Collaborative
Dr. Jamie Freedman
Senior Vice President, U.S. Medical Affairs, Ph.D, Genetech
Dr. Rina Shah
Group Vice President, Pharmacy Operations and Services, Walgreens
Throughout 2020, the COVID-19 virus disproportionately affected minority communities. Fortunately, vaccines are now available for people to protect themselves from the coronavirus and regain a sense of normalcy. However, some members of these communities who have suffered from health disparities are still hesitant to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
To combat this skepticism, the U.S. Chamber spoke with health care officials and business leaders to address common vaccine hesitancy issues and gain marginalized communities' trust.
Historical Health Disparities Are Contributing to Vaccine Hesitancy Among the Black Community
Michelle Williams, the Dean of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, stated that the disproportionate COVID-19 burden borne by Black communities reflects their long history of health disparities. Williams talked about three key areas that play into vaccine hesitancy: historical trauma, medical racism, and a lack of access to resources in the community.
“For far too long, for 400 plus years, the health of black Americans has been either ignored or even abused in the name of science,” said Williams. “That has been a fertile soil for mistrust and distrust to occur.”
Williams said changing these stigmas won’t happen overnight, but they need to be addressed in order to get more people vaccinated against the coronavirus.
“We've got a lot of work to do in meeting these populations where they are, in educating them on the importance of vaccines, writ large in the history of protecting, promoting, and preserving health prior to COVID, but also specifically answering questions and concerns about the speed with which the vaccines were brought forward,” said Williams.
Communities Need Direct Messaging and Equal Access
There is mistrust among the Black, Native American, and other communities of color on the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines. In order for local governments and officials to reach these communities and encourage them to get vaccinated, the Former Governor of Massachusetts and Co-Chair of COVID Collaborative Deval Williams said that it would take numerous trusted voices from different perspectives.
“It will also take a consistent message from people about the safety of the vaccine and the importance of getting it for your own sake, your family's sake, and the larger community’s sake,” said Williams. “That message coming across consistently, coming from lots of different voices — including voices that are trusted by Black people in Black communities — is enormously important.”
Any messaging also needs to establish confidence that the vaccines will be available for all. While many well-connected people know they’ll be able to get vaccinated, those in disparaged communities fear that resources will be limited for them. Williams said those who shoulder the most significant burden need to know they will have access to the vaccine.
“It has to be backed up by results, which is to say the vaccine has to actually be made available as quickly as possible and as conveniently as possible to everybody,” Williams explained.
Pharmacies Are Doing Their Part to Provide Access to Care
Government leaders and elected officials cannot be the only ones encouraging vaccines. While community leaders do a great job of advocating the importance of vaccines and their benefits, pharmacies also have to do their part to establish trust with those who are skeptical. Dr. Rina Shah, Group Vice President of Pharmacy Operations and Services for Walgreens, said Walgreens focuses on three pillars for their vaccine equity efforts.
“One is education information, making sure everyone knows where they can go, how they can get it, and what the importance of vaccine is,” said Shah.
“The second is increasing access to care, and that means not only offering vaccines in our stores, but then also going into the communities, working with our local partners, working with local officials and the state officials, so that we can set up clinics in communities where we know access to care might be limited, and offering vaccinations when there are plentiful vaccines available,” Shah continued.
“The third [pillar] is around partnership — we can't do this on our own,” she concluded.
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