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Building trust for African Americans in COVID-19 vaccine decision

Posted at 6:39 PM, Jan 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-29 19:52:46-05

MILWAUKEE — A Milwaukee-based minority health organization is providing more information on the COVID-19 vaccine to educate marginalized communities to help their decision.

While the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine nears 500 million administered so far, there are still many concerns. From short term to long term impacts, marginalized communities are among those most skeptical, questioning everything with the vaccine. The Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin just finished a two-month program, getting as many of those questions answered but intend on continuing the successful program.

“I want an informed community so they can make the best decision for themselves and family,” Dr. Patricia McManus, President & CEO of the Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin said.

For the last two months, McManus says they’ve been running the Milwaukee Black Immunization Project (MBIP) to do just that. The program does it all from a historical education about vaccines to a focus group for discussion, all the way to helping arm those in the program to take the education they gained out into the communities they live. They’ve taught some 200 people about the vaccine to put them in a better position to make an educated decision about taking it.

Generally, most people say they’ll get the vaccine. Although, Pew Research shows two out of ten people say they won’t. The MBIP a necessary plan for a community that holds mistrust for the healthcare system.

“I don’t particularly trust it,” Pastor James Boyd of Milwaukee said. “Historically, we haven’t always benefited from things they told us we had to take. That plays a major role in why I’m skeptical about taking the vaccine for COVID.”

Mistrust like Boyd’s is already bearing out in the numbers in Milwaukee County. As of Jan. 28, 47,983 vaccinations have been administered in Milwaukee County. White residents received 60.8 percent (29,191) while African Americans have received 7.04 percent (3,377).

Milwaukee County COVID Vaccinations by race
Black Milwaukee County residents make up about 7 percent of the total COVID-19 vaccinations, despite making up 27.2 percent of the population.

“We know there is a racial disparity,” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said. “After just several weeks in, who is receiving this vaccination, we will address this.”

There are a number of factors that can be attributed to this disparity, but when it comes to skepticism of the vaccine itself, McManus feels their program can help.

“People feel they’re not treated well day-to-day in the healthcare system so why should they all of a sudden trust something as big as this?” McManus said. “Of course, there’s not only Tuskegee, but other things in the past, relative to the healthcare system and many people in our community do not trust it.”

McManus says these sessions are not meant to come across as reasons why communities of color should absolutely get the vaccine. They are meant to provide factual information from a person they can trust.

She says the sessions, which are on Tuesdays and Thursdays, work in two parts. First, they give kind of an overview of everything with the vaccine. Then, the second half is a Q&A with those in attendance. McManus is sure to not provide any judgment for any questions. She wants to be as welcoming to all questions to help people understand.

She has concerns about achieving herd immunity without all communities of color. Consider the Flu Vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control show 53 percent of white people got the Flu Vaccine during the 2019-2020 season. Comparatively, 41 percent of African Americans got the vaccine.

Even McManus herself shares her story. She has an autoimmune disorder so she is hesitant to get the vaccine until she learns more about how those with autoimmune disorders react to it. She says she is leaning towards getting the vaccine but is getting the information herself. It’s what she’s also trying to provide for people with questions.

“When other folks want to think about it, I’m the same person,” McManus. “I think about it. We’re giving an opportunity, in a safe environment, to think about it.”

While they’ve had about 200 people in the program, McManus hopes it extends much farther than that. Those 200 people have friends or family who trust them. They can share the information they got from her and spread it. It’s information coming from trusted sources.

McManus is sure not to tell people to get the vaccine or not to get the vaccine. She wants people to make the decision for themselves, once they have all of the pertinent information.

“I trust people can make valid decisions for themselves,” McManus said. “If they get the right information and trust who is giving the information, that’s what we tell them.”

"People say, I don’t trust [vaccines],” She said. “I’m not doing them. We understand that. We respect your right but we keep talking and those same people ask another question. They’re like, oh. Hmm. Then by the time they get done, they say, well maybe. Maybe is not as bad.”

The Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin suggests calling for more information at 414-933-0064. You can also find more information on their website.

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