What’s not being said about why African Americans need to take the COVID-19 vaccine
Latrice Davis, a nurse at Roseland Community Hospital in Chicago, will receive the COVID-19 vaccine on December 18, 2020. Scott Olson via Getty Images
Dr. Anthony Fauci and other national health leaders have said that African Americans must take the COVID-19 vaccine to protect their health. What Fauci and others failed to state is that if African Americans don't take the vaccine, the nation as a whole will never achieve herd immunity.
The concept of herd immunity, also known as community immunity, is pretty simple. If a significant portion of the population or the herd becomes immune to the virus, the entire population has acceptable protection. Immunity can occur through natural immunity to personal infection and recovery, or through vaccination. Once a population has reached herd immunity, the likelihood of person-to-person spread is very low.
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The big lie is that of omission. Yes, it is true that African Americans will benefit from the COVID vaccine, but the full truth is that the country needs African Americans and other populations with lower reported COVID-19 vaccine acceptance rates to take the vaccine. Without increased acceptance of the vaccine, we have little chance of community-wide protection.
I am an epidemiologist and health researcher who has been researching the African American community for 20 years. Much of my work has focused on strategies for increasing community engagement in research. I see a significant opportunity to improve the adoption of COVID vaccines in the African American community.
If up to 60% of African Americans don't take the vaccine, achieving herd immunity will be difficult. Noam Galai via Getty Images
Perform coronavirus math
Approximately 70% of the people in the United States must take the vaccine for the population to achieve herd immunity. Whites make up about 60% of the US population. So if every white person got the vaccine, the US would still not achieve herd immunity. A recent study found that 68% of whites would be willing to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. If these estimates are correct, we would get 42%.
African Americans make up more than 13% of the American population. However, if up to 60% of African Americans refuse to take the vaccine, it will be difficult to reach the 70% threshold that is likely to be required to achieve herd immunity.
Latinos make up just over 18% of the population. One study suggests that 32% of Latinos could opt out of a COVID vaccine. Add up the 40% to 50% rejection rates among other population subsets and herd immunity becomes mathematically impossible.
Another exacerbation of the problem is that mass vaccination alone does not achieve herd immunity, as the effect of COVID vaccines on preventing virus transmission remains unclear. Ongoing preventive measures are likely to be needed to stop the community from spreading. As opposition to fact and science continues to grow, the need for credible information dissemination and confidence building around vaccines becomes increasingly important.
My research offers some possible explanations for lower vaccination rates in blacks. Historical mistakes such as the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments, which ended in 1972, have been instrumental in increasing blacks' distrust of the health system. In another case, Henrietta Lacks' “immortal” cells were divided without her consent and used in medical research for more than 70 years. The most recent application includes COVID vaccine research, but her family has not received any financial benefit.
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