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(Reuters Health) – COVID-19’s devastating effects in Black and Latinx communities may have encouraged residents to practice mitigation behaviors and to seek testing, but they weren’t enough to convince people that their best choice was to get vaccinated against the virus, a new study finds.
In individual and group interviews, Black and Latinx study participants from New Jersey described the devastating effects of COVID-19 and how that led to information seeking and to the uptake of social distancing and masking.
Despite that, vaccine skepticism remained high, with Latinx participants seeking more information on how the vaccines were developed and Black participants saying they didn’t want to be experimental subjects, according to the report published in JAMA Network Open.
“We wanted to learn directly from the Latinx and Black communities how experiences in the hardest hit communities motivated behavior and whether they led to vaccine acceptance,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Manuel Jimenez, an assistant professor of pediatrics and family medicine and community health at the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. “We heard a lot about loss–about losing family members and loved ones and how that made the illness real to them. Those experiences motivated people to take precautions such as handwashing and mask wearing.”
The devastation caused by the virus also prompted community members to seek out testing, amoxicillin dosage for tooth infection but “they reported difficulty finding testing centers,” Dr. Jimenez said. “But even in light of all the devastation, there was still skepticism regarding the vaccines, their development process and their side effects. They really wanted to learn more.”
But generic public health messages were not enough. “They wanted to hear from people they trusted and to be able to see information on the vaccines themselves,” Dr. Jimenez said.
To learn more about experiences and perceptions of those from minority communities, Dr. Jimenez and his colleagues conducted online group and individual interviews as part of NJ HEROES TOO (New Jersey Healthcare Essential Worker Outreach and Education Study-Testing Overlooked Occupations).
The researchers purposely sampled Black and Latinx individuals from New Jersey counties that had high rates of COVID-19 infections and deaths during the initial surge in 2020, high levels of poverty, and large concentrations of Black and Latinx populations. They partnered with 18 community based organizations and four health care organizations in those communities.
Dr. Jimenez and his colleagues organized 13 group interviews and eight individual interviews between November 19, 2020, and February 5, 2021, using a secure Zoom platform. Interviewers followed a guide, which was developed through a literature review, the team’s own experience and partner feedback. They adapted and added questions to explore emerging themes as the interviews progressed.
Many participants were concerned about the speed with which the vaccine was developed and wanted information on how safe it was.
Participants also wanted information that was specific to their communities. One said “…I also think that doctors need to be well informed and transmit that information well to their patients… for example, our Hispanic community, which is different from the African or White communities–how has it affected us, what are our risks…”
Many participants wanted to see how others would respond first. “The only way I would get the vaccine would be if the same scientists who created it, and the executives and owners of the companies who created the vaccine, and the President and the entire Cabinet got the vaccine, then I would get the vaccine,” a participant said.
Participants cited racism and the history of medical experimentation on Black individuals. One said, if “we can prove that (the vaccine) is safe to take, I will be there to take it, but I’m not going to be the first one… I have some suspicion always, growing up an African American male, we’ve been experimented on so often, and I don’t want to be a part of anybody’s experiment. But once I find out that it’s safe, for the good of humanity, I will participate at that point.”
The new study is “fantastic,” said Sandra Albrecht, an assistant professor in the department of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and chief epidemiologist at Dear Pandemic, a social media-based COVID-19 science communication project for the public.
“It has needed to be done for a long time,” Albrecht said. “They went in and did a more in-depth look than other studies. They asked about people’s knowledge and beliefs and perspectives, what mitigation strategies they were using and what they thought about the vaccines.”
“Traditionally the way public health professionals deliver information to the public is to tell them what they need to do,” Albrecht said. “It’s a more didactic approach.”
But this study “revealed that is not what people of color want,” Albrecht said. “They want a two-way dialogue.”
It probably won’t be easy to provide that, Albrecht said. “It will take a lot of resources and money, two things public health doesn’t have,” she added. “But this has revealed what is necessary if we want to make real change.”
SOURCE: https://bit.ly/2VM9Hsp JAMA Network Open, online July 15, 2021.
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