Only 17 percent of Black and Latino study participants from across Alabama told researchers they are willing to get a COVID-19 vaccine in a set of focus groups with UAB last month.
“I didn’t expect that (mistrust) would be that deep and across the board,” said UAB’s Dr. Mona Fouad, director of the Minority Health & Health Disparities Research Center, who led the interviews.
Researchers spoke with 67 low-income people who are Black or Latino from Jefferson, Mobile and Dallas Counties in eight focus groups, to learn how they felt about vaccination.
Six of the groups were made of mostly Black participants. Two of the groups included mostly Latinos.
Overall, only 11 participants said they would get a vaccine, whereas 22 said they would not and 33 said they were unsure.
“There was huge mistrust,” said Fouad. “Mistrust of different groups, (like) government, scientists (and the) media.”
The participants, mostly hourly workers with low levels of education, were identified through UAB’s existing community partnerships.
In each group, someone mentioned the Tuskegee study. In the 1950′s, researchers at Tuskegee knowingly failed to provide treatment for Black men with syphilis.
The term “guinea pigs” also came up repeatedly.
Misinformation from social media was an issue, said Fouad. Participants said they want to better understand whether the vaccine is safe and whether it works. They want a consistent message from trusted sources, such as religious leaders, doctors, government and the media.
“They’re very confused about (safety, and) they don’t have enough information to make an informed decision,” said Fouad.
Studies with thousands of participants have shown the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have 95 percent efficacy. People who’ve taken the vaccines sometimes experience short-lived side effects as the body builds immunity to COVID-19.
In a handful of rare instances, people with a history of severe allergic reactions have experienced them after getting vaccinated.
“They wanted a more unified message, clear message (on safety),” Fouad said of the people in the focus groups. “Talk with people. Be on the ground.”
Members of the Latino groups said they would respond well to simple, explanatory flyers, printed in Spanish.
“The Latinos talked about the word of mouth and testimonial and stories of people like them. They talked a lot about newspapers and print media. They wanted really more information through the way they access these messages,” she said.
UAB received federal funding to develop and publicize messaging around vaccination. Fouad said her team is developing a plan for outreach based on the responses from the focus groups.
“This is the time for communication,” she said. “We have to be very transparent and give facts.”
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