Vaccine fears didn’t start with COVID-19, reminding healthcare workers of a flawed history
Local health professionals are essential to mitigating COVID-19 vaccine fears in underrepresented communities.
Vaccines for diseases have been around since the 18th century. They’ve been a staple in halting the spread of once-devastating diseases in the United States, from smallpox to meningitis. Yet even in the year 2020, there remains skepticism to the usage, efficacy and safety of vaccines.
The COVID-19 vaccine finally began distribution throughout the U.S. this week, amid beliefs — especially among Black people and Latinos — that it is something to fear.
This is not the first time a vaccine has received skepticism. Historically, Latino and Black communities have navigated years of mistrust with the medical system, rooted in inequity, and at times even inhumane practices.
“Processes that have happened in the past that have left that rooted racism and discrimination that impacts how the Latino and Hispanic community looks at the medical field and the advances there,” Dr. Christian Bengston told AL DÍA.
He works at the Family First Clinic in York, Pennsylvania, where he serves a community that is majority Black and Latinx.
Referencing a study by COVID Collaborative, the NAACP, and UnidosUS, Bengston agrees with its findings, that it is important for healthcare providers currently working in these communities to try to regain the trust of patients, and inform them on how safe the new vaccine is for the coming year in eradicating the virus.
“It's going to take quite a bit of work in us engaging your local communities, to educate them on how safe this is, and how important this is to both protect themselves and their families, especially as we’ve seen in the past year, more people have died of this virus than in the last four years of just the flu virus,” he continued.
Engagement with communities is key, but many other factors come into play, including language barriers. In this case, being bilingual is an incredible asset, not only in communicating effectively, but it also gives patients the opportunity to voice their concerns in their native languages.
At a time when information from various sources can be confusing. Leading to some skepticism and hesitation on safety and whether it will be helpful. Hesitation is also rooted in how fast the vaccine was created.
“I often talk to my patients about the vaccine because this is something we have been anticipating for [years],” Dr. Bengston added.
He emphasized that this didn’t just start with Covid. Other vaccines for illnesses that have been eradicated in the past can still be harmful if people stop taking vaccines, and the issue of getting vaccines into underrepresented communities has been a longstanding issue.
Because of this, healthcare professionals in majority Black and Latinx communities need to work harder in terms of outreach, so patients understand its efficacy and urgency.
Recently, public vaccinations on healthcare professionals have garnered mass media attention, from the first vaccines administered in New York and California, to the first vaccine administered in Puerto Rico.
They are offering themselves as bridges to fill the gap in trust.
But in many, more rural areas that are largely Latinx like Dr. Bengston’s, there is no set timeframe for when the vaccine will arrive. It may take several weeks, but as long as the direct outreach works to mitigate fears, those who need the doses the most should be able to have the vaccine administered when the time comes.