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Covid vaccine skepticism among Black Americans is falling — but there's a bigger issue

Black Americans are being called out for Covid vaccine skepticism. But the greater problem is access to vaccinations.
Photo illustration of a vaccine as a weighting scale that is weighed down more on one side by COVID-19 spores than the other.
Covid has weighed heaviest on the most vulnerable Americans. Now they face poor access to life-saving Covid vaccinations.Anjali Nair / MSNBC; Getty Images

When I received the first shot of the Covid-19 vaccine in February, I made it a point to do so publicly, so that people could see someone they could relate to actually getting the shot. I did this largely because according to reports, too many Americans, especially Black Americans, have been skeptical about signing up to get one of the three vaccines now available.

Black Americans are disproportionately shouldering blame for "vaccine skepticism" when a much larger systemic issue looms: one of access.

When the Covid-19 pandemic first struck the United States, we heard a lot of talk about how it was an equal opportunity virus and that nobody was safe from its ravaging impact. Then, we heard talk about how disproportionately the virus was hitting Black communities and communities of color.

While it’s true that everyone is at risk, the past year has taught us that the most vulnerable among us are once again bearing the brunt of suffering from this horrendous disease.

But Black Americans especially are also disproportionately shouldering blame for "vaccine skepticism" when a much larger systemic issue looms: access. Because what it comes down to is that unequal access, not reluctance alone, is standing in the way of many Black people who might readily get the vaccine if they had the chance.

In fact, after concerted efforts in recent weeks and months to bring the Black community around, we've seen some encouraging improvement. (Data actually points to white Republicans as the most skeptical of the Covid-19 vaccines.) For weeks, we’ve also seen reports of mostly white people traveling to Black and brown communities to get vaccinated, as well as the wealthy taking up appointment slots in poorer neighborhoods.

Recalling the painful history of Blacks being denied medical treatment like in the Tuskegee experiment and more, I knew that receiving this life-saving vaccination was the logical thing to do.

That’s not to say that vaccine skepticism is not a problem, no matter what community you belong to. I have to admit that I had some hesitancy at first about the vaccines. But after doing my research, learning that a Black doctor helped to develop the vaccine, recalling the painful history of Blacks being denied medical treatment like in the Tuskegee experiment and more, I knew that receiving this life-saving vaccination was the logical thing to do. Ten ministers joined me, so that we could show people how vital this preventative measure is.

It’s a view that more and more Black Americans are coming around to, according to recent polling. For all the concerns about Black communities’ skepticism and hesitancy about getting the Covid-19 vaccine, those numbers are starting to turn around. And yet, we’re still seeing a wide disparity in access to this life-saving drug.

By every single measure, Covid-19 has dramatically affected minority communities and blatantly exposed the disparities in health care, employment and so much more. Black and Hispanic people are still about twice as likely to die from the virus as white people and around three times more likely to be hospitalized, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC also reports that Native Americans are more than twice as likely to die from the disease and are nearly four times as likely to be hospitalized. As a result of this pestilence, life expectancy in the U.S. fell by one year, but for Black Americans it dropped by almost three times as much.

As a result of this pestilence, life expectancy in the U.S. fell by one year, but for Black Americans it dropped by almost three times as much.

All across the country, this disparity is stark. Things like a lack of vaccination sites, lack of transportation, inability to take time off from work, and a failure of outreach to underserved communities have all contributed to the inequity.

Under the Biden administration, we are seeing a push to do more, such as the recently passed Covid-19 stimulus bill. Some localities are also now placing residency requirements for vaccinations. It’s a welcome change after the utter failings of the Trump administration — including blatant lies and attempts to downplay the threat of the virus — but we’re still dealing with the distressing consequences.

We’re still seeing the legacy of Trump’s approach in action. Even now, as lawmakers work to provide relief to families suffering economically, Republicans who had no problem giving a tax break to millionaires and billionaires clearly have issues with the cost of helping American families struggling from an unprecedented situation.

The structural disparities we have been fighting were brought to the forefront this past year and exposed the ongoing racial and financial divide that has plagued this country for far longer than Covid-19. If ever there was a time to rectify these disparities, it is now.

Black and brown people have endured an unfair burden from a pandemic that has decimated our communities the most, and the country cannot go back to business as usual. Covid-19 has affected everyone in some capacity, but the structural racism that created worse health outcomes, housing, finances and more for us have only been exacerbated.

There’s no denying that reality; it’s now just a question of what we are going to do to change it.