Ohio State University Study Examines the Reasons for the Racial Gap in Vaccination Rates

The conventional wisdom is that the lower rate of COVID-19 vaccination among African Americans is due to distrust of the government and the medical community due to historical realities such as the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, sterilization programs, and systemic racism in the healthcare community. But a new study led by researchers at Ohio State University finds that Black Americans who were initially hesitant about receiving a COVID-19 vaccine were more likely than Whites who were against taking the vaccine to come to the conclusion at a later date that getting vaccinated was the right thing to do.

The research highlights the importance of not making assumptions about race-based viewpoints regarding health care, and illustrates the likelihood that access — not just distrust or skepticism — is a significant obstacle to higher levels of COVID-19 protection among Black Americans, the study authors said.

The study followed the same group of Americans over time, surveying them about their views regarding the pandemic. Data was collected in seven waves from an initial group of 1,200 participants. The surveys began before vaccines became available in late 2020, and ended in June 2021. Participants were asked about their likelihood of getting a vaccine and about their beliefs regarding the safety, efficacy, and need for the vaccine. About 38 percent of Black participants and 28 percent of White participants were hesitant at the start of the study. By June 2021, 26 percent of Black participants and 27 percent of White participants were hesitant.

“From the start of the vaccine rollout, we began to hear about how Black Americans were going to resist vaccinations. Our study highlights that any emphasis on hesitance as the primary challenge to vaccination among Black Americans would be a mistake,” said study lead author Tasleem Padamsee, an assistant professor in the College of Public Health at Ohio State University. “We must not lose sight of the significant access barriers that persist, including distant vaccine sites, lack of transportation, and inflexible work hours.”

“While Black Americans’ intention to get vaccinated has gone up, their actual vaccination rates haven’t gone up as quickly,” notes study co-author Kelly Garrett, a professor of communication at Ohio State. “That suggests that there are other obstacles to vaccination. We have good reason to think that has to do with access.”

The full study, “Changes in COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy Among Black and White Individuals in the U.S.” was published on JAMA Open Network. It may be accessed here.

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