Vaccine Hesitancy Dropped Faster Among Black People, Study Suggests

Black man getting the covid 19 vaccine

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Key Takeaways

  • In late 2020, about 38% of Black participants and 28% of white participants reported hesitation regarding the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • By June 2021, only 26% of Black participants reported hesitation regarding the COVID-19 vaccine, while 27% of white participants still reported hesitation.
  • This research highlights the importance of ensuring that there are no other barriers to COVID-19 vaccination, like access.

Differing views on the COVID-19 vaccine have had far-reaching impacts. A new study published in JAMA Network Open found that Black people worked through COVID-19 vaccine hesitation more quickly than white people.

For this study, 1200 participants were asked about their views on the COVID-19 vaccine over a period of 7 months, and while Black people reported less intention to get vaccinated than white people in December 2020, Black participants had surpassed white participants by March 2021.

While hesitation is understandable following the abhorrent violations suffered during the Tuskegee study, Black people may also be facing the barriers of access to time off from work and transportation for vaccines.

COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy Over Time

This research study was conducted via online surveys on a monthly basis to assess COVID-19 vaccine hesitation and found that this sentiment decreased more among Black participants between December 2020 and June 2021.

By surveying the same individuals over 7 months, researchers found that Black participants reported a quicker shift in their belief that COVID-19 vaccination is necessary for protection than their white peers, which increased their intention to obtain the COVID-19 vaccine.

Although vaccine hesitancy decreased among Black participants, researchers note that more Black individuals than white individuals remained unvaccinated, which is why they encouraged outreach to address barriers.

Addressing the Barriers to Access

Deidra Thompson, DNP, FNP-C, PMHNP-BC, faculty member in Walden University’s Master of Science in Nursing program, says, "In this study, COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy decreased more rapidly among Black Americans than white Americans as a belief that vaccines are necessary for protection increased more among Black Americans."

As vaccination rates among Black Americans remain lower than white Americans, Thompson explains, "Racism and past unethical studies caused a level of distrust in healthcare among many Black Americans."

Thompson highlights a cautionary approach to the medical system. "Black Americans are motivated to protect themselves and their communities from discrimination, even in healthcare, once informed and educated," she says.  

While this research study delves specifically into hesitation regarding the COVID-19 vaccine, Thompson notes, "Individuals should maintain attendance at regular health care appointments and discuss all vaccines for which they are eligible to protect against other diseases as well."

Deidra Thompson, DNP, FNP-C, PMHNP-BC

Making the vaccine available at more convenient locations can also prove beneficial for acceptance.

— Deidra Thompson, DNP, FNP-C, PMHNP-BC

Thompson explains, "Seeking more information on vaccinations and other aspects of health care can reduce hesitancy. Individuals should seek to educate themselves on conditions and treatments they are uncertain about so they can make an informed decision."

Given the reality of barriers to access, Thompson recommends that individuals should identify any barriers to treatment, such as distance from care, absence from work, and finances. "One can then partner with a health care professional to reduce or eliminate those barriers," she says.

To address such challenges, Thompson explains, "Educating individuals and communities on vaccine safety, effectiveness, cost and locations can help increase acceptance. Making the vaccine available at more convenient locations can also prove beneficial for acceptance."  

In her experience, Thompson notes that individuals sometimes listen to those who are not experts in the medical field and unfortunately accept false information as true. "I encourage individuals to spread fact and not fiction, check the accuracy of their sources and do research on a regular basis for the latest updates," she says.

Tuskegee Discussed in Black Communities

Behavioral health medical director at Community Health of South Florida Inc., psychiatrist Howard Pratt, DO, says, “After two years of sickness, death and financial pressure coupled with isolation, many in the Black community are coming to the conclusion that action is better than inaction."

Dr. Pratt explains, “The significance of the decline in vaccine hesitancy among Blacks is a monumental development from a historic standpoint. While the Black community is not a monolith, and even when removing socioeconomic factors and level of education from the equation, there still exists hesitancy among Blacks to seek healthcare."

Looking back on the 1900s through to the 1950s, Dr. Pratt notes that a majority of the Black community worked as laborers, whereby getting sick often meant getting fired, so Black individuals may avoid healthcare.

In addition to those historical factors, Dr. Pratt highlights, "If you couple that with the horror and scandal of the Tuskegee experiment, that’s further validation within the Black community to sustain the myth that healthcare is bad, that if you go to see a doctor, bad things may happen.”

Dr. Pratt explains, “Most people outside of the healthcare community don’t know about the Tuskegee research; however many of us in the Black community were told by our parents and grandparents about it, including how late in America’s history it was revealed to the general public."

In this way, Dr. Pratt notes how Tuskegee had validated their fears about healthcare, which may have contributed to similar concern regarding the COVID-19 vaccine, even as they watched many die from this virus that disproportionately impacted Black communities more than other groups.

Howard Pratt, DO

Most people outside of the healthcare community don’t know about the Tuskegee research; however many of us in the Black community were told by our parents and grandparents about it, including how late in America’s history it was revealed to the general public.

— Howard Pratt, DO

Dr. Pratt believes that a big part of the decline in hesitancy stems from the outreach efforts from healthcare facilities like Community Health of South Florida, Inc., and many other groups and individuals.

By providing accurate COVID-19 vaccine information, Dr. Pratt notes how a large segment of the Black community came to the realization that there can be serious consequences for making healthcare choices based upon continued doubts about the healthcare industry and vaccine providers.

Since Black people have historically hesitated to seek treatment for health conditions, Dr. Pratt highlights, "It’s very exciting to see healthcare hesitancy drop greater for our community when compared to other groups."

Dr. Pratt explains, "This is a big deal, not just when it comes to vaccines, because if we, as a community, aren’t getting our checkups, we are not going to find out if we have diabetes or high blood pressure, as well, and we may not be able to take full advantage of preventative medicine.”

With that in mind, Dr. Pratt notes, “I think it’s worth taking this research further to compare it with other groups that have faced socioeconomic challenges as the Black community has to see what the findings may show.”

Dr. Pratt explains, “I’ve had the pleasure of treating the Black community in my practice. As far as one person getting COVID in a family and surviving it, I’ve seen this result in sparing the rest of the family a great deal of added grief and hardship by sharing the experience and sharing that they can prevent COVID or minimize its impact by taking a vaccine. I have seen this happen several times over at Community Health of South Florida, Inc.”

What This Means For You

As this research demonstrates, COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy decreased more among Black survey respondents than their white peers. Unfortunately, many Black communities still lag behind in COVID-19 vaccination rates, so it may help to address barriers to access, such as distance from care, absence from work, finances, etc.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Padamsee TJ, Bond RM, Dixon GN, et al. Changes in COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy among Black and White individuals in the USJAMA Netw Open. 2022;5(1):e2144470. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.44470

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The U.S. Public Health Service syphilis study at Tuskegee: The Tuskegee timeline.

By Krystal Jagoo
 Krystal Kavita Jagoo is a social worker, committed to anti-oppressive practice.