Like others in her fam-ily, Mattie Pringle had doubts about taking the coronavirus vaccine. The 57-year-old Black
woman from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, feared that her high blood pressure and diabetes might heighten her chances of a severe reaction to the shot. The speedy development and approval of the vaccines also fed her skepticism. Then a member of Pringle’s church, a local NAACP leader who has led a vaccination campaign targeting Black residents, urged her to reconsider. He shared a news story about Kizzmekia Corbett, a Black government
scientist who played a key role in developing the Modern vaccine.
“That’s what made me change my mind,” said Pringle, who finally agreed to an appointment to get her first coronavirus shot April 8. “I had to pray about it. And I felt better after that.”
Campaigns aimed at Black com-munities across the U.S. are making headway in the effort to persuade people that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. With millions of dollars in assistance from President Joe Biden’s administration, local groups have urged Black Americans to roll up their sleeves for shots and set aside what for some is a shared historical distrust of science and government.
A poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research in late March found that about 24% of Black American adults said they will probably or definitely not get vaccinated. That’s down from 41% in January. The latest number shows Black Americans leaning against getting shots in almost the same proportion as white Americans at 26% and Hispanic Americans at 22%.
Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said attitudes toward the vaccine among Black Americans have taken “almost a 180-degree turn-around” as outreach campaigns have worked to combat misinformation.
He credited Black physicians, faith leaders and other community organizers for being trusted messengers during the pandemic, which has killed more than 550,000 Americans.
“It’s the messenger and the message,” but the messenger “is probably the most important part of it, and people doing it in a way that wasn’t preachy,” Benjamin said. “They didn’t tell people, ‘You need to get vaccinated because it’s your duty.’ They basically said, ‘Listen, you need to get vaccinated to protect yourself and your family.’”
Some of the most effective outreach has relied on existing community relationships, such as local physicians talking about their own decisions to get vaccinated, to reassure the public, said Dr. Lisa Cooper, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Equity.
Community members in the Baltimore area who knew Cooper from her research on food deserts and nutrition trusted her as a source of information on COVID-19, she said.
Based on that relation-ship, “people felt comfort-able hearing from me,” she said.
Some state health departments have rolled out ads targeting communities of color. NAACP chapters in some cities have booked appointments for people to get shots. Pastors of Black churches have urged their parishioners to take the vaccines.
In Brunswick, Georgia, the Rev. John Perry and an-other Black pastor put their faces on a billboard promoting the vaccines, and postcards with a similar image were mailed to residents. Both efforts were produced by the Georgia Department of Public Health.
“I think we still have enough people on the fence that are going to budge and get their shots,” said Perry, who initially wanted to wait a year before getting his shots but changed his mind after reading up on how the vaccines were developed. He got his second dose April 7.