HAMPTON ROADS, Va (WAVY) — Despite ongoing efforts to roll out the COVID-19 vaccine in minority communities, there are still a great number of Black Americans who are weary about getting the shot.
It shows in the number of people vaccinated across Virginia — and many other states as well.
According to the Virginia Department of Health, more than 600,000 white Virginians received the vaccine in January, while only 100,000 Black Virginians received it.
It’s a big difference — and local leaders say that disparity can be traced back to generational fear.
“I’m really kind of afraid of what the reaction [to the shot] is going to be, which is most of my Black and brown people are afraid of,” said Nadelyn Ross, a Williamsburg resident.
Fear is what’s keeping people like Ross from signing up for the shot.
“I have like 20-plus grandkids, and you know, seven kids and three of them out of state. I want to see my children. I don’t want to be alone all the time,” Ross said.
But she’s fearful that the vaccine could harm her. And she questions about the rapid nature of the rollout.
“I’m not going to do something I don’t know nothing about. I’m not gonna risk … my health already is at risk,” she said.
It’s a fear Hampton University President Dr. William Harvey says has deep roots.
“Some of it is the fact that there is just this distrust. For example, you know, I talked to so many people that talked about the night, the Tuskegee study. And that … to me was a shame on this country,” he said.
The Tuskegee Study was a 40-year experiment involving hundreds of Black men infected with syphilis. Researchers told the test subjects they were being treated when, in fact, they were not.
Mistreatment of the Black community can also be found in stories like that of Henrietta Lacks, whose cervical cancer cells were harvested from her without her knowledge, and then used to advance medicine.
“The fact is that there was trust in the federal government to try to be helpful to African Americans. So the trust factor was betrayed. And there’s no question about it,” said Harvey.
Iris Lundy, director of health equity for Sentara Healthcare, said they have to start by gaining that trust back.
“We have to acknowledge it. We need to say ‘Yes, there has [been] wrongs, there are wrongs that have been done against minority communities,'” she said.
Next, she said they have to be transparent.
“Let’s have this dialogue. It may be uncomfortable, but let’s just roll up our sleeves, and go ahead and have it. Let people ask their questions. Let’s give honest, transparent, accurate information to the best of our knowledge to answer their questions,” she added.
And finally, she said they need to make an example.
“When I look at our leaders who are rolling up their sleeves, and they’re doing it, I find comfort in them. And it helps me to roll up my sleeves also, which is why I’m going to get my second shot today,” she said.
Harvey got his shot.
“I had zero side effects. And I’m, I’m very pleased to have done it. I’m very pleased to have provided some leadership,” he explained.
“I’m pleased because I do believe that the only salvation for this pandemic is these vaccinations,” he said.
He encourages everyone to take a break from social media and talk to their healthcare provider or do their own research.
Ross says it’s that information she believes could bring her closer to seeing her grandchildren again.
“Now that I know what resources I can go to, to find out more about them. I did not know about the CDC, but all the stuff you’re telling me I did not know, you know, where I could go to find information, now I can pass this on,” she said.
Harvey and Lundy agree bringing access and information to lower-income and underserved communities is a priority and it’s what will make the difference. They’re working to make that a reality and Harvey is working to make Hampton University a testing and vaccination site.