Considering the Vaccine Disparity Within the BIPOC Community

by Jess Ferguson
August 19th, 2021

When picturing an “anti-vaxxer,” one might consider a “Karen” stereotype: a conservative, middle-aged white woman, upper middle class, a mother, someone who may read conspiracies online claiming that the vaccines are tracking you or may cause other health issues. However, the situation is not so cut and dry, and people do not just resist vaccines because of information they read online.

The BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) community, especially Black people, have a strained relationship to medical care and vaccines in particular. Medical racism is all too common in the U.S., and has a great impact on how people respond to health care. A poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Undefeated found that 70% of surveyed Black Americans believe the healthcare system “treats people unfairly based on race very or somewhat often.” Furthermore, 60% of Black adults said they believe doctors will do the right thing the majority of the time, in comparison to 80% of white adults.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in April on the barriers inhibiting equity, especially as it pertains to COVID-19. These factors include racial discrimination, lack of healthcare access, occupation, educational/income/wealth gaps, transportation, and mistrust from past medical racism. In an August CDC report of race and ethnicity among vaccinated individuals, Blacks were the lowest racial/ethnic group. Only 22% of Black Americans had been vaccinated, compared to 29% of Hispanics, 33% of whites, 45% of Native Americans, and 41% of Asians.

The CDC is currently working to address vaccine disparities by providing a plethora of information on vaccines and partnering with organizations to support local initiatives within marginalized communities.

Within Boston, the predominantly black neighbourhood of Mattapan reports just under 40% of residents fully vaccinated, compared to the predominantly white South End with 72.5%. The Boston Herald reports this is largely due to distrust of the government. Many Mattapan residents are Haitian and speak Haitian-Creole, making vaccine information less accessible.

Greater Mattapan Community Council chair Fatima Ali-Salaam told the Herald that “you’re talking about a higher immigrant population who may come from countries where you have even less trust in government, and that carries with them,” and that social media has been “the biggest blockade of misinformation” as it relates to the vaccine.

Health care workers are attempting to eliminate any barriers preventing Black and other POC from receiving vaccines by offering translators, providing information on the vaccine, and being located at convenient, commonly visited locations.

However, this gap is slowly beginning to close. More dramatically, between March 1-August 1, Black adults’ share of vaccinations in D.C. increased from 26% to 43%, and 25% to 38% in Mississippi. Many other states reported smaller increases.

Overall, systemic racism, especially medical racism, play major roles in the vaccine disparity within the U.S. While the phrase “anti-vaxxer” may conjure up thoughts of someone who is miseducated, selfish, or feeding into right-wing propaganda, a lot of the time the issue is more complex than that, and there are many factors that play into how people approach health care. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to plague the nation (and the world as a whole), consider the ways other groups of people may react to the U.S. healthcare system, and approach your thoughts from a place of compassion rather than judgment.